The Long Game Continues for Jordan Mailata
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Others outside the NovaCare Complex have tried to ramp up the development of Jordan Mailata. Behind the scenes, the Eagles have been far more realistic about the former Australian rugby player's transition to the NFL.
It's always been about the long game with Mailata and if things proceed as planned, perhaps the 21-year-old could be a real contributor by 2020.
The Eagles probably would have liked to stash Mailata on the practice squad for his rookie season but as the hype picked up from high-profile analysts like Brian Baldinger and Ross Tucker, Philadelphia decided a redshirt on the back end of the roster was the better path forward fearing it might lose Mailata via the waiver wire.
Once on the roster, Mailata was rewarded for his dedication and work etchic by dressing three times before being shut down for the season late with a back injury but those who were expecting the first 6-foot-8, 350-pound fullback of even some reps at left tackle when Jason Peters was dealing with a multitude of injuries were walking down the wrong path.
It was always a slow burn with Mailata's initiation into the NFL as Step 1. The next phase started with getting healthy and calming down the balky back which ended his rookie season early.
“It feels good," Mailata said at OTAs last week. “It’s good to be back out there. I missed it. I’ve been resting and trying to get better."
No surgery was needed, but the injury did affect Mailata's strength training.
“I’ve been doing a little bit of lifting," he explained. “I have my little regimen that I stick to. But I don’t do any squats. I don’t want to overload the back. I [stay away from] specific movements because I don’t want to irritate or aggravate anything."
Things have progressed to the point that the Eagles unveiled the next step in Mailata's transition at the start of on-field work when he took the first-team reps at right tackle in place of All-Pro Lane Johnson, who wasn't at the session. Mailata spent his entire rookie campaign on the left side and the cross-training is the effort to put a little more on Mailata's plate in an attempt to turn him into a potential game-day contributor.
“I’ll go back to the analogy I’ve used before, I had one peanut before. Now, I’ve got bags. At least two bags of peanuts,” the popular second-year player laughed.
With first-round pick Andre Dillard now on hand, however, the assumption that Mailata could someday take over for Peters is now far-fetched. The more realistic goal of being the game-day swing tackle is growing closer, however.
“Every year they’re going to choose the best people from the draft," Mailata said. “It just happened to be one of the best tackles in the draft. Obviously, you want that. I want that on my team. I don’t believe it hinders my progression or where they have me on the depth chart. It’s a plus for us that we added ‘Dre. For me, it’s just going to make me work harder."
Mailata started at ground zero having never played football before being plucked out of an overseas cattle call due to his prodigious size and physical gifts. To be kind he had no idea what he was doing when he showed up in Philadelphia as a seventh-round pick but offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland saw one impressive piece of clay and banged the table for Mailata.
“How many guys are that big and can move that fast?" Stoutland said last year. “He’s unusual. I like unusual."
So much so that Mailata has become a bit of a pet project for Stoutland.
"Stout likes to put the old [practice film] on," Mailata explained. "I was watching it today. God, I was cringing. I was cringing the whole time. Whenever I get a chance to look at the old footage, it gives me a chance to reflect on how far I’ve come."
According to Mailata the progess has been steady.
“It’s day and night for me from when I walked in here last year to now," Mailata explained. “My understanding of the playbook. Understanding technique. Everything. ... Coach Stout believes in me. I know I can get the job done regardless of where they put me."
Until then Mailata keeps collecting those peanuts like he's at the Texas Roadhouse passing time until the entree arrives.
“I need to be like J.P. [Peters]. He has a factory of peanuts.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen