Jordan Mailata received the good news Saturday morning when he arrived at the NovaCare Complex for practice before the Eagles boarded their flight to San Francisco.
He was going to be making his first career start Sunday night against the 49ers.
“I walked in and [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] said, ‘You’re up,’ ” the 6-foot-8, 346-pound offensive tackle said.
"That was pretty much it. I said, ‘Cool. Let’s do it.’ ”
Mailata was the latest replacement part on an offensive line that has been devastated by injuries in this young season. Both of their starting guards — Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo — are on injured reserve. So is left tackle Andre Dillard, as well as Dillard’s replacement, Jason Peters, who was placed on IR over the weekend with a toe injury.
Mailata started at left tackle. The former Aussie rugby player wasn’t perfect. He had a costly false start penalty on a third-and-1 in the second quarter that killed a promising drive.
But for the most part, he held his own as the Eagles beat the Niners, 25-20, and moved into first place in the NFC East.
“First game starting, of course I had a little bit of jitters,”Mailata said. “But once that first drive was over, they went away. I felt like I was home. It was great to get the W.”
The false start came early in the second quarter. Mailata could’ve let it bother him. But he didn’t.
“It was [caused by] cadence I wasn’t familiar with,” he said. “I have to work on that a bit more in practice. But my teammates always stress to me that you have to have a next-play mentality. After that play, I just had to think about the next play and not worry about it.”
The offensive line’s injury woes continued during the game. Right tackle Lane Johnson left the game early in the first quarter after aggravating his surgically repaired ankle. Johnson returned in the second half, but ended up playing just 37 of 62 snaps against the Niners. He was replaced by rookie fourth-round pick Jack Driscoll when he was out.
“You can’t really make it up, the injuries and the situations we’ve been put in,” said quarterback Carson Wentz, who had his best performance of the season, completing 18 of 28 passes and throwing for one touchdown and running for another.
"But that’s the hand we’ve been dealt. And guys have been ready. They’ve been working their tails off for their moment when it comes.
“The offensive line, a lot of young guys have been filling in and stepping up and doing an amazing job. Hats off to the coaches for getting these guys ready. But hats off to these guys for staying ready and being locked in the way they were tonight.”
It’s been a long and sometimes frustrating wait for Mailata, who never had played a down of football before the Eagles selected him in the seventh round of the 2018 draft. He spent his first two NFL seasons on injured reserve. Once viewed as a possible left tackle replacement to nine-time Pro Bowler Peters, that changed when the Eagles took Dillard in the first round of the 2019 draft.
By the start of training camp, he had tumbled down the depth chart. But then the bodies started to fall.
The 38-year-old Peters, who initially was re-signed to replace Brooks at right guard, slid back over to left tackle right before the first game. But he had struggled in the first three games, and then injured his toe near the end of the Eagles Week 3 tie with Cincinnati.
Driscoll was a left tackle option Sunday night. But most of his practice reps have been on the right side. He also started the season opener against Washington at right tackle when Johnson wasn’t ready to go.
“Jordan’s been getting a lot of reps over there at left tackle,” head coach Doug Pederson said after the game. "That’s his spot. He’s been comfortable there. We’ve been comfortable with him there. I thought overall, he did some good things tonight. I thought overall, the offensive line played well. They played tough. That’s what it takes.
“This was a good defense we played. A good [defensive] front. They’re aggressive. They attack. I thought our offensive line, with the moving pieces and parts that we had, really stepped up and did well.”
Even though he didn’t find out until Saturday that he was going to start, Mailata said he approached practice last week as if he were indeed going to be the starting left tackle.
“I just prepared like I was going to start just in case,” he said. “We’re a big next-man-up-mentality team. You never know what can happen in this game of football. That’s the one thing I’ve learned about this game in the last three years being here.”
Mailata gave a shout out to practice squad defensive end Joe Ostman, who worked against him last week in practice and got him ready for his first starting chance.
“Joe really worked me during all the reps this week,” Mailata said. “I feel like he prepared me for this game. Even when I didn’t know I was starting, he worked me. He made sure I was getting a good look. He made sure I was getting off the ball, getting off the snap cadence as well.”
Mailata said he didn’t feel any added pressure replacing Peters, a future Hall of Famer.
“I’m not trying to fill anyone’s boots,” he said. "I’m trying to make my own boots. That’s the one thing I am here [from Australia] to do. Try and put some respect on my name and tell people I’m not a rugby player anymore. I’m a footballer.
“I’m glad I have guys like JP and Lane, who have coached me up on the sidelines. They’ve made me a better player and person. My hat’s off to them.”
Left tackle now would seem to be Mailata’s job to lose. While Peters' toe injury doesn’t appear to be a season-ender, if Mailata plays well, even if Peters returns, it likely won’t be as the starting left tackle. But the Aussie’s play will determine that.