Jordan Mailata felt helpless this season. The Eagles offensive tackle wanted to practice, wanted to play, wanted to contribute.
But he couldn’t. He spent all but the first two weeks of the season on injured reserve with a back injury and didn’t play a snap for the second straight year.
“I wish I could have been out on the field and having an impact,’’ Mailata said. “I was in every meeting. But not being able to practice or help the team in any way really took a mental toll on me.’’
Mailata feels even more helpless right now about what’s happening back in his native Australia. Bush fires have burned up more than 32 million acres of his homeland. And there’s no end in sight.
Thirty-two million acres is roughly the size of England. The wildfires last year in the Amazon rain forest burned about 2.3 million acres. The 2018 California wildfires burned 2 million acres.
In the state of New South Wales, where Australia’s largest city, Sydney, is and where Mailata’s family lives, more than 2,000 homes already have been destroyed.
The fires have claimed 24 lives. Thick plumes of smoke have blanketed the urban centers of Sydney and Australia’s other largest city, Melbourne. The smoke was so bad in Sydney last month that the air quality measured 11 times the “hazardous’’ level.
“My family, thank God, is safe,’’ Mailata said Monday as he cleaned out his locker after Sunday’s season-ending playoff loss to Seattle. “But it breaks my heart every time I go on social media and see what’s happening.’’
With the Eagles off until voluntary workouts commence in April, the 6-foot-8, 346-pound Mailata plans to fly home soon and do whatever he can to help his fellow Aussies deal with the bush fire crisis.
“I don’t want to post about it on social media,’’ he said. “I just want to go behind the scenes and do it. I don’t want any praise for it. It’s just that my home country is burning right now and it’s killing me. It’s killing me.
“I kind of just want to put a [firefighting] helmet on and just not be recognized and just do whatever I can. Just have an impact. That’s what I’m feeling right now. That’s what I want to do for my home. Have some sort of impact where I can help out.’’
Mailata, 22, who was a second-tier rugby player in Australia, left home two years ago to pursue a career in the NFL. He was the epitome of a project, having never played a down of football before the Eagles selected him in the seventh round of the 2018 draft.
He picked up the game quickly and has shown the kind of freakish athleticism and strength that had people like the NFL Network’s respected analyst, Brian Baldinger, saying he had Pro Bowl potential. But he has had back problems both of his first two seasons.
“I’m just trying to get back on the field,’’ Mailata said. “Hopefully next season will be a fresh start and I’ll just go from there. I don’t really have any goals. I just want to have an impact on this team. Put me at any position, I don’t care. I just want to be able to help the team out.’’
The Eagles worked him at left tackle as a rookie, and he was being mentioned as an eventual replacement there for nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters. But then the Eagles drafted Andre Dillard in the first round last year, and Mailata was moved to right tackle behind another All-Pro, Lane Johnson.
Mailata discovered, much like Dillard would later in the Eagles’ Week 12 loss to the Seahawks when he replaced the concussed Johnson, that there is a world of difference between playing on the left and right sides of the offensive line.
Dillard said it was like a left-hander trying to write with his right hand. Mailata used a slightly different analogy.
“It’s like wiping your backside with your other hand,’’ he said. “It’s not going to be clean, but it gets the job done.
“My dominant foot is my right foot. So when I play on the left side and kick off on my right foot, I can get back way quicker. When I went over to the right side and had to kick off on my left foot, my weak foot, at first I was like, this is ridiculous. But the more repetitions I got, the more comfortable I got. And I was able to decrease my pad level a ton as well.’’
It’s not clear what Mailata’s role will be next season. Dillard is expected to replace the 38-year-old Peters at left tackle, and Johnson, 29, signed a four-year, $72 million contract extension two months ago. So he’s not going anywhere for a while.
Mailata could replace Halapoulivaati Vaitai as the team’s backup swing tackle. The serviceable Vaitai is one of 15 Eagles who can become unrestricted free agents in March. Someone likely will give him a starting opportunity based on his resume with the Eagles.
Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland "kept telling me when I was on IR this season, ‘Stay hungry, my friend; hungry dogs run faster,’ ’’ Mailata said. “I’m like, I’m losing my mind right now [not playing], Stout. I’m as hungry as hell.’