Eagles’ starting left tackle in 2021? ‘Jordan Mailata, hands down,’ says Brian Baldinger
Andre Dillard will be back in 2021. But NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said the Eagles' 2019 first-round pick won't be able to wrestle the starting left tackle job from Jordan Mailata.
Jordan Mailata will make his 10th start of the season, and his ninth at left tackle, for the Eagles on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
In a season that has been filled with a lot of negatives, the 6-8, 346-pound former rugby player from Australia has been one of the positives.
“I just go out there and do my job,” he said the other day after what might have been his best performance of the season in the Eagles’ 33-26 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. “I sound like a broken record, but it’s honestly the only way I can function. Just go out there and do my job. I don’t really think about anything else.
“I just think about that play and that moment. We have a great saying here – be where your feet are at. That’s what I do all the time. I think all of that other stuff will take care of itself if I just do my job. That’s the mentality I’ll always have. It’s helped me be consistent, and now that I feel confident, I just kind of stick to what I know. And that’s what I know.”
While the Jalen-or-Carson question clearly is going to dominate the Eagles’ offseason, the team has some other important decisions to weigh. That includes the left tackle situation, where they’re going to have to decide between Mailata and 2018 first-round pick Andre Dillard.
Brian Baldinger believes the choice is obvious.
“It’s Jordan Mailata hands down,’' said the NFL Network analyst, who spent 11 years as an offensive lineman in the league. “I don’t even think it’s close. I’m not trying to knock Dillard. But I don’t think on his best day he could play at the same level that Jordan played at last week.”
No one better
Baldinger thought Mailata turned in the best performance of any left tackle in the league last week.
“I didn’t see anybody play any better than him,” he said. “He’s dominant in the run game. His athletic ability is substantial. His ability to finish plays, whether it was [against] Haason Reddick or Markus Golden or somebody else turning the corner, he could run with them. He’s got just rare power.”
Dillard was supposed to be the starting left tackle this season until suffering a biceps injury in training camp. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland initially put 38-year-old Jason Peters back at left tackle. Peters was re-signed during the summer to replace injured Brandon Brooks at right guard. But Peters broke down again, this time suffering a debilitating toe injury.
Mailata got his first start in Week 4 against the 49ers, and has started nine of the last 11 games.
“I know Stout felt obliged to put Jason Peters out there, but I just wanted them to put this kid out there and let him play,” Baldinger said. “Because, really, all he needs right now is to play next to [left guard] Isaac [Seumalo] and (tight ends) Dallas Goedert and Zach (Ertz). That’s the next step for him. Improve his synchronicity with the guys around him.”
Mailata, the 233rd overall pick in the 2018 draft, is an athletic freak. He is big, strong, and fast. He’s been playing football for only four years. But he is learning fast. So fast.
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“He got beat on a stunt the other day,” Baldinger said. “He just needs time to work on those different looks. The more he plays, the more situational football he’s going to see.
“If he was late off the ball like he was on one play where he missed a quick jam, he’s got the ability to recover. Which is rare. That’s what you want at left tackle. Guys that have that kind of ability. Because once the pandemic is over and things go back to normal, you’re going to be dealing with crowd noise again and you’re going to be late off the ball.”
Mailata was called for a false start Sunday on a first-down play at the Arizona 2-yard line. Baldinger said he watched the play at least 20 times. It wasn’t a false start.
“He actually timed it so perfectly that they flagged him,” he said. “He was moving with the ball.
“He played a flawless game. There were two plays in pass-protection that he’d like to have back. But when he hits people, they move. You just don’t see people that can move bodies in this league. It’s rare. Very few guys can do it. He can.”
If Mailata is the starting left tackle next season, then what do they do with Dillard? The Eagles expect right tackle Lane Johnson to make a full recovery from his ankle injury/surgery. He turns 31 in May, but he’s still one of the best right tackles in the league and isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
If Jason Kelce retires, Seumalo likely is option A as the center successor. They might consider moving Dillard inside to left guard if that happens. Or he could end up being their swing tackle. But Baldinger doesn’t see him beating out Mailata.
“I don’t think he can beat out Jordan,” he said. “I just don’t think he can.”
Figuring the Eagles
The Eagles are 28th in first-quarter scoring this season (48 points). In their last six games, five of which they’ve lost, they scored six points and registered 21 first downs in the first quarter.
The Eagles are 23rd in takeaways with 16, but are tied for fifth in red-zone takeaways with four, including two Sunday against Arizona. The Browns lead the league in red-zone takeaways with six. The Colts, Dolphins, and Steelers are tied for second with five.
The Eagles had five takeaways in the last two games. That’s the most they’ve had in a two-game span since last October, when they also had five against the Jets (3) and Vikings (2).
Jim Schwartz’s defense has five interceptions this season. That’s the second-fewest in the league. Houston has just three. Carolina also has five. The Eagles had just 11 interceptions last year and 10 the year before. That’s 26 over the last three seasons. Only four teams have fewer; the 49ers (25), the Cardinals (24), the Cowboys (23), and the Lions (21). The Patriots have the most with 59.
Jalen Hurts had 29 rushing attempts for 169 yards, 11 first downs, and a touchdown in his first two starts. A breakdown of those runs: nine scrambles for 83 yards, nine zone-reads for 58 yards, eight designed runs for 32 yards, and three kneel-downs for minus-4 yards.
Washburn happy for Graham
Brandon Graham’s NFL career didn’t get off to the best of starts.
His selection by the Eagles with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft was not well-received by fans, who thought safety Earl Thomas or defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul would have been far better choices.
Then, late in his rookie season, he tore his ACL. Graham missed the first half of the 2011 season while he rehabbed his injury. When he finally was able to play, the team’s new defensive line coach, Jim Washburn, didn’t exactly put out the welcome mat for Graham.
Washburn had his favorites and Graham wasn’t one of them. Wash was a white guy from Shelby, N.C. Graham was a black guy from Detroit. They viewed life through different lenses.
Graham lanquished behind Jason Babin and Trent Cole and Darryl Tapp and played in just three games that year. Things didn’t change much the next year for Graham until Andy Reid fired Washburn with four games left in the season. Ironically, Graham had his breakout game in Washburn’s final game with the Eagles, registering 1½ sacks in a 38-33 loss to the Cowboys.
“Wash would make you feel bad, boy,” Graham told NBC Sports Philadelphia in 2015. “Like you can’t play at all.”
Washburn, 71, who coached with Jim Schwartz in Tennessee for nearly a decade, where they developed the wide-nine, retired from coaching three years ago and lives about 50 miles south of Nashville on 60 acres he bought when he was coaching.
“Cabin and a barn,” he said by phone earlier this week. “I sort of dropped out of society and live out in the country.”
Washburn lost his best friend in the world, Howard Mudd, in August. Mudd, who coached the Eagles’ offensive line the same two years Washburn coached the defensive line, died from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident.
“That was hard,” Washburn said. “But he died like he wanted to, I guess. On his motorcycle. He was a unique, good person. I miss him. He was 75 and basically crippled. But he could still ride his bike. That was his freedom.”
The summer before training camp started in 2011, Washburn, who also rides, and Mudd, drove their bikes across Africa.
“Good times,” Washburn said fondly.
Washburn had planned a solo motorcycle trip through Scotland this summer. But COVID came along.
“I’m 71,” he said. “There are still things I need to do, and I’ve got to do them pretty soon. I’m going to do some major [motorcycle] trips if I can.”
Washburn’s son, Jeremiah, works for the Eagles. He’s the director of player personnel and also is a senior defensive coaching assistant.
Washburn said he was really happy to hear that Graham finally had earned his first Pro Bowl invitation in his 11th NFL season.
“First of all, I think Brandon is a really fine human being. Just a good, good person and an excellent teammate. He cares about others.
“He’s matured like we all do. Everybody doesn’t come in like a house on fire. He’s developed into a really good pass-rusher. I knew the last year I was there  that he was going to be a good rusher. But we had Cole and Babin and so he wasn’t playing much. We also had Tapp, too. But he was getting ready to blossom.
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“I saw him not too long ago. Same big smile on his face. Always has a good attitude. I hope he finishes these last two games strong. It would be great for him to get double-digit sacks.”
Graham had seven sacks in the Eagles’ first eight games. But he hasn’t had any since.
Graham, 32, admitted it was difficult playing for Washburn.
“I met him during the draft process when I visited with the Titans,” he said this week. “He was real nice, real cool during that time. But when he was my coach, he was more no-nonsense. Like, ‘You’re a rookie; you don’t have nothing to say up in here.’
“It was tough for me. Vinny [Curry] and Fletch [Cox)] come in [in 2012] and they get the love right away. But me and Wash now, we’ve buried that. We’re really good. Everything is cool.
“I’m glad I’m older know and I can understand why some things happened the way they did. Some stuff that he taught me back then is really still helping me to this day because, when we got back in this [wide-nine] defense, all I could hear was Wash saying, ‘Get off the ball! Run to the ball and show your personality and show your athleticism.’
“That’s pretty much how it is in this defense. So I was so excited when Schwartz ended up coming here [in 2016], and man, I’m happy that me and Wash are real cool now, compared to back then when I was a young guy and immature.”