The individual pass-rush drill is one of the most telling sessions during a training camp practice.
The drill consists of a defensive lineman going head-to-head against an offensive lineman, with one player trying to sack the quarterback while the other tries to protect him. It tests an individual’s strength, technique, and pure will. Battles can be intense and almost each time, there’s a clear winner.
Throughout the first week of camp, Jordan Mailata has recorded more victories than fellow Eagles offensive lineman Andre Dillard. The tally is considered crucial, with Mailata and Dillard in the midst of a heated competition for the starting left tackle position.
“I love their competitive nature,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said Monday morning. “Coach [Nick] Sirianni preaches it all the time: Compete, compete, compete. Both guys are doing that. Love where both of those guys are right now. Everyone’s trying to win a job.”
Mailata and Dillard have had designated days in which one of them takes a majority of the starter snaps at left tackle during team periods, and the two will switch off the following practice. This rotation allows them to not only stack reps against a variety of defensive players and pass rushers, but also with different quarterbacks.
As the coaching staff evaluates Mailata and Dillard, part of its internal discussions will involve which lineman is better suited to protect presumptive starter Jalen Hurts, who is known for his ability to scramble. In his four starts last season, Hurts rushed for 272 yards and three touchdowns.
“No question, we have to protect the quarterback,” Steichen said. “Obviously his running ability is going to be big, and when he can run the football. But we have to protect the quarterback at the same time, because we know if you take a lot of hits in this league, it’s hard to maintain your health.”
Mailata, a former Australian rugby player who was a seventh-round draft pick in 2018, is listed at 6-foot-8 and 346 pounds. Dillard, the Eagles’ first-round pick in 2019, is 6-5 and 315. Sirianni recently credited Mailata for arriving to camp in the “best shape of his life.”
Leading up to camp, Mailata stayed in the Philadelphia area and trained with several of his teammates under the guidance of the strength and conditioning staff. The Eagles designed a specific training regimen for Mailata, which focused on his workout sessions, diet, and sleep schedule.
“I’d been lying to myself for a long time,” Mailata said. “I thought I had a routine every day, but we broke it down ... trying to get the details down on and off the field. [I feel the difference] 100%. Focusing on different areas of my flexibility and core.”
The Eagles’ offensive line, which has featured left guard Nate Herbig, center Jason Kelce, right guard Brandon Brooks, and right tackle Lane Johnson in camp, has the potential to be one of the team’s strongest position groups.
Especially when dealing with a young quarterback and new offensive system, a formidable offensive line could make for a smoother transition. The Eagles are hoping Mailata or Dillard help piece that puzzle together.
“We think about what we’re doing, not each other,” said Dillard, who sat out last season with a biceps injury after a rookie campaign in which he struggled when he was needed to fill in for since-departed Jason Peters. “We’re not going against the other guy in practice. We can’t really focus on that.”
So far, Mailata appears to have the advantage. It’s possible Dillard rebounds from his slow start when padded practices begin on Tuesday. But until he shows significant signs of improvement, it seems to be Mailata’s job to lose.
“Every year, it’s been a competition for me,” Mailata said. “We’re both giving each other a good [run] for our money. But first things first, I’ve always said I need to make the team first. That’s always been my mentality.”