Jordan Mailata no longer is the shiny new toy on the Eagles’ offensive line.
That would be Andre Dillard, whose effortless grace each day reminds everyone at Eagles camp what a gifted, polished, first-round rookie offensive tackle looks like.
Mailata, in Year 2 of his football education, also is gifted. But a year ago, he had never played in a football game, and had witnessed only a few, as an Australian rugby star given a chance to switch sports by virtue of his 6-foot-8, 346-pound frame and his freakish natural athleticism.
This time last year, the fact that Mailata could look as if he belonged in a preseason game, that he could perform as a reasonable facsimile of an NFL player while still learning the basic rules, seemed astonishing.
Now, the perspective has changed. Dillard blocks Mailata’s path as the eventual successor to Jason Peters at left tackle, and just by his presence, Dillard demonstrates the gulf between where Mailata is and where Mailata needs to be to fully redeem his potential. That gulf remains significant.
Mailata, assigned to learn right tackle this year after spending last season at left tackle, acknowledges having gone through “a rough patch” in this camp, which he feels he has worked his way past.
“[I was] just trying to figure out why I was doing stuff that I wasn’t doing last year,” he said. He concluded that he was “overthinking. I wasn’t doing my kind of stuff."
The solution? "Stop thinking, be patient. Just going to work on the little things, details.”
It isn’t shocking that Mailata might have gotten a bit impatient. He has put a lot of time into building this new life in America. When does he find out if this is all going to be worth it?
The more immediate question, for Mailata and the Eagles, is this: What’s a reasonable expectation from him in his second year?
He still has never played in a regular-season game at any level. He still is so much younger than he looks, just 22 – a little more than 18 months younger than Dillard, younger than anyone on the 90-man roster except rookie running back Miles Sanders, who was born a little more than a month later in 1997.
But the novelty has worn off, or at least gotten scuffed up a bit.
“It's a very good question, because really, how do you set an expectation?” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said Monday. “Obviously, we're trying to get this guy ready to play on Sundays and he's coming from ground zero, so every day that he makes improvement I think is a positive day. Every day that the game slows down for him is a very positive day for him, and should help his confidence, and help our confidence in him.
“That being said, he's still playing against some really good guys, and seeing things for the first time, and just getting acclimated to playing football. He's made a lot of really good progress, and it will be an exciting preseason for him.”
A couple of weeks ago, 2018 practice squad defensive end Joe Ostman was beating Mailata like a drum, in full-team drills and in one-on-one work. Ostman, who officially was still being evaluated Monday after suffering what seemed to be a serious knee injury at Sunday evening’s public practice, has great quickness and guile, and he was killing training camp when he went down. But Ostman is generously listed at 6-3, 260. His upside would seem to be NFL role player, special-teams guy, and pass-rush specialist.
To Mailata’s credit, after one especially rough day, he huddled with Ostman at Ostman’s locker stall, going over what had just happened, dissecting his mistakes.
“I feel like Jordan’s improving every day. We’re working together,” Ostman said last week.
Ostman said he has worked a lot against Dillard, as well.
“They kind of have different strengths, I feel. Dillard has a strong post, protects his inside well. Jordan’s big. He can make it hard to get around him,” Ostman said. “Dillard’s also good at moving his feet. Even when you do get him off-balance a little bit, he’s able to recover. Jordan’s athletic, for his size.”
On Monday, Mailata had a hard time talking about Ostman, in the immediate wake of his injury.
“He made me want to get better every day,” Mailata said. “My heart’s broken.”
Mailata doesn’t blame his struggles on switching sides.
“It took me a while to get used to the stance. I’ve got it down pat now,” he said. “I think it’s a bit more easy on the right – my body likes it that way.”
Mailata and Ostman said that Mailata’s initial snaps on the right, back in the spring, were really good.
“He played left so long last year, I think he got comfortable over there. It is a transition to switch sides,” Ostman said. “He’s still transitioning a little bit over to that right side, but I definitely see improvement in him every day.”
Mailata said among the offensive linemen, “the wizard” – guard/center Stefen Wisniewski – has helped him the most this camp.
Wisniewski was asked if it’s realistic to expect Mailata to be able to play in games this season.
“It’s realistic,” Wisniewski said. “Coming from where he started, that’s still a big jump, right? To be ready to play in an NFL game, against the best. He’s working his way there. If he’s going to be there or not by Week 1 of this season, we’ll see. He’s getting closer, for sure.
“I know he’s got all the natural ability, and he’s definitely willing to work and willing to learn. To be honest, in my opinion it’s just a matter of time until he’s ready. When that day is, we don’t know yet, but he’s definitely close, and getting closer.”