You’ve got to love Jordan Mailata. How many professional athletes do you run into who use peanuts to measure their development?
“I’ll go back to the analogy I’ve used before,” the Eagles’ second-year offensive tackle said earlier this week. “I had one peanut before. Now, I’ve got bags. At least two bags of peanuts.”
And exactly how many bags does the 21-year-old Aussie think he’ll need to eventually become a productive NFL offensive lineman?
“I need a factory," he said. “I need to be like J.P. [Jason Peters]. He has a factory of peanuts. He’s the peanut maker."
It’s far too early to tell if Mailata ever will come close to matching Peters’ peanut production. The Eagles’ 37-year-old left tackle is a nine-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro who has a limo waiting in the driveway to take him to Canton five years after he retires.
Mailata, meanwhile, is a former rugby player from Down Under who has been playing football for all of one year.
He’s made impressive strides in that one year. But still, it’s one year.
“It’s day and night for me from when I walked in here last year to now," Mailata said earlier this week after the first of the Eagles’ 10 OTA practice sessions. “My understanding of the playbook. Understanding technique. Everything.
“Stout [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] likes to put the old [practice footage] on. I was watching it today. God, I was cringing. I was cringing the whole time.
“Whenever I get a chance to look at the old footage, it gives me a chance to reflect on how far I’ve come and give me the confidence to move forward."
Mailata definitely has been a quick learner. The 6-8, 346-pounder progressed so rapidly last year after the Eagles took him in the seventh round of the 2018 draft that it didn’t seem crazy for him to be the team’s season-opening starting left tackle if Peters didn’t return.
“How many guys are that big and can move that fast?" Stoutland said last summer. “He’s unusual. I like unusual. Those are the guys that end up becoming your best players."
After watching Mailata in the preseason, NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger compared his kick step to that of future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas.
“His footwork is amazing," Baldinger said last year. “He has a real possibility next year of lining up and playing. Because the fundamentals are there. His body is coordinated. If you didn’t know that he was 21 years old and from Australia and had never played football, you would never guess.”
The Eagles brought Mailata along slowly last year. He dressed for three games as a rookie but never played. He ended up hurting his back in early December and was immediately shut down and placed on injured reserve.
This week’s first three OTAs have been the first time Mailata has been back on the football field since he injured the back.
“It feels good," he said. “It’s good to be back out there. I missed it. I’ve been resting and trying to get better."
Mailata didn’t need surgery, but the injury has limited his offseason training.
“I’ve been doing a little bit of lifting," he said. “I have my little regimen that I stick to. But I don’t do any squats. I don’t want to overload the back. I [stay away from] specific movements because I don’t want to irritate or aggravate anything. I’m just being careful now."
Mailata is participating fully in OTAs. In fact, he’s working at both tackle spots. Last year, the Eagles kept him strictly at left tackle.
Part of that is because it’s his second year and he is better equipped to handle a heavier mental workload. Another part of it is the fact that they selected Washington State offensive tackle Andre Dillard in the first round of the draft, 22nd overall.
“We’re going to cross-train him from left to right," head coach Doug Pederson said of Mailata. “It’ll be good for him and his development and growth as we work through OTAs."
Pederson said the Eagles have no plans right now to train Mailata at guard. And for now, at least, all of Dillard’s reps will be at left tackle.
Peters started all 16 regular-season games and both playoff games last season, but he missed nearly 20 percent of the offensive snaps with quad, biceps, knee and back injuries. He missed the entire fourth quarter of the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Saints with a back injury.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been the Eagles’ top backup tackle the last two years. He started 10 games and all three playoff wins in 2017 after Peters tore an ACL. But with the addition of Dillard and Mailata’s high ceiling, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Vaitai end up on the trading block.
Despite the Eagles’ high opinion of Mailata, they didn’t hesitate to trade up three spots to grab Dillard when he slid in first round of the draft. They’d rather have too many good offensive tackles than not enough.
Mailata said he wasn’t surprised that the Eagles took Dillard, who was one of the 10 best players on their draft board.
“Every year they’re going to choose the best people from the draft," he said. “It just happened to be one of the best tackles in the draft. Obviously you want that. I want that on my team.
“I don’t believe it hinders my progression or where they have me on the depth chart. It’s a plus for us that we added ‘Dre.
“For me, it’s just going to make me work harder. He’s a great guy. I’m pretty confident in myself, and Coach Stout believes in me. I know I can get the job done regardless of where they put me."