It was tabbed as the biggest position battle at Eagles training camp: Andre Dillard vs. Jordan Mailata, with the winner earning the responsibilities of starting left tackle.
By the end of camp, Mailata was declared victor by first-year coach Nick Sirianni. The rugby-turned-football player and Australia native was made aware of the news earlier in the week when Sirianni named him the starter.
“Jordan had a great camp, a great camp,” Sirianni said. “Andre had a great camp. Andre missed some time, and during that time, the chemistry with the one offensive line was able to build. It’s a good problem for us to have. We have two left tackles that can really play and can start in my opinion all across the NFL.”
Was it really that close?
After all, Mailata jumped Dillard from the very beginning with Dillard dealing with knee and hand injuries. Throughout camp, it became clear in both individual and team drills that Mailata had a clear path at becoming the guy.
“Jordan did a good job of winning that position,” Sirianni said. “But then again, I don’t want to short Andre here at all. ... The whole body of work is at play, and I’m just sure glad that we got both those guys on this roster.”
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When Sirianni and the coaching staff entered camp, they demanded competition from all spots, especially at left tackle. As quarterback Jalen Hurts prepares to begin his second season under a new coach and offensive play caller, he’s bound to face adversity. However, a superior offensive line can mask some of the quarterback’s miscues during what the franchise has labeled as a transition period. The Eagles are hopeful Mailata can be part of that puzzle.
Philadelphia has inexperience at several positions, but offensive lineman is not one of them. The group is anchored by the league’s best right tackle in Lane Johnson and perennial Pro Bowler Jason Kelce.
It was Kelce who described this summer as a “life-changing” position battle. Mailata is now primed with an opportunity to earn a big payday if he goes on to perform well during the final year of his rookie contract. If any additional convincing is needed, all he needs to do is glance at Johnson, the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL.
“When it came to the starting position, whether it was going to be me or Andre, I was going to prepare myself like a starter,” Mailata said. “That was my one biggest thing I saw last year that I needed to work on was how to prepare and train like a starter and live that way of life.
“My focus was never on who was going to be starter, but rather the process of being a starter.”
Mailata, 24, was a seventh-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft. He was deemed a long-term project at the time, when he said he knew “as little as peanuts” about football.
“I was kind of branding myself as a football player because I believed it,” Mailata said. “That was my biggest thing of not being seen as a rugby player anymore. I’m going to keep doing that until I scrub that from my history.”
Over the past three years, the 6-foot-8, 365-pound lineman has embraced the city and fostered relationships with his teammates. Mailata credits offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland for helping him with his development and achieving his goal of becoming a starter in the NFL.
“I love the guy,” fellow offensive lineman Brett Toth said of Mailata. “I can’t say enough good things about him. It’s remarkable. A guy who came here and never played football, and to be at the position he is at now, it’s a testament to him. Everyday he’s going out there and working with guys like Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett. They’re sharpening him. For him, he’s hard on himself.”
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As for any lingering feelings from the competition between Mailata, Dillard and the rest of the linemen?
“Knowing there was a competition didn’t really change the dynamic,” Toth said. “It can’t be weighed against [Dillard] just because of where Jordan is at, Jordan’s capability and [what improvement he’s shown].
“Three years ago, he was a guy that didn’t understand he’s not holding the ball and lateraling it every time playing rugby. For him to be able to do what he can do now, it’s just ... awesome. He’s an amazing player. He’s going to go far lengths here.”