The Eagles are not yet living in the future, it would seem.
Are they living in the past?
We will just have to see how events unfold over these final nine games, in the wake of 38-year-old Jason Peters' return to the left tackle position for Wednesday’s practice, in which Jordan Mailata lined up at right tackle.
Mailata, the 23-year-old former rugby player from Australia, has been pretty impressive in Peters' spot over the last four games, as Peters recovered from a toe injury. Mailata obviously figures to be in the Eagles' plans going forward, and Peters does not.
But Mailata struggled last week against the Giants, giving up a sack and five pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, which gave Mailata his lowest grades of the season – 47.9 overall, 48.5 in pass blocking, and 44.4 in run blocking. His overall numbers are 60.6, 63.3, and 55.1. (Remember, below 60 is “replacement level,” 70 is the minimum starter grade.)
Peters' numbers, before he went down against the Bengals, were 64.6, 68.5, and 54.5.
Wednesday’s practice alignment isn’t etched in stone. Before practice, coach Doug Pederson indicated that if starting right tackle Lane Johnson felt like hauling his injured right knee and ankle out there against Dallas Sunday night, Pederson would be happy for Johnson to do so, despite the upcoming bye week. Johnson missed Wednesday’s practice, but is “day to day.”
“If Lane Johnson wants to play, I’m not gonna stand in his way,” Pederson said.
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Johnson obviously will start at right tackle when he can. Whether that is this week or against the Giants the week after the bye, does Mailata then move back to left tackle, and does Peters go inside to guard? Or would the team keep Peters at his most familiar spot and maybe try Mailata at guard?
Before reporters knew the practice lineup, quarterback Carson Wentz was asked Wednesday which left tackle he would prefer, Mailata or Peters. His answer foreshadowed what was to come.
“I don’t make the decisions, at the end of the day. I know that Jason Peters has been doing this a long time, and he’s been rock solid every time he’s in there,” Wentz said. “He’s going to be, in my opinion, a future Hall of Famer, one of the best to do it. I’ve been very thoroughly impressed with Mailata, and really all of these guys up front who have had to fill in and step in, but as soon as JP is back and healthy, I’m sure he’ll be ready to go. Nothing but confidence in whoever’s up.”
Peters was allowed to become a free agent last March after 11 distinguished Eagles seasons, and a number of injuries as he aged. He was signed over the summer to play right guard after Brandon Brooks' Achilles injury, but he moved back to left tackle when Andre Dillard suffered a biceps tear. Peters was struggling at tackle before he went on injured reserve Oct. 3. No longer an athletic marvel in the 17th season of a career that began at tight end, he might be a better fit now at guard.
“He definitely can help us at left tackle,” Pederson said of Peters. “And he’s had the right-guard experience. Basically just need to see him moving around today and tomorrow, and see where he can best help us.”
Asked about Mailata, Pederson said: "Jordan filled in nicely. He’s done a great job, and I think that’s a bright spot for us, having seen him play, and really play against some really good defensive ends or outside linebackers.
“We all know that Jason Peters feels comfortable at left tackle, and he’s a veteran player, and if that’s where we want to play him this week, even if he’s available to play. It’s just something that I think, too, with Jordan, again, the reps, the time on task is just valuable, and something he can learn from as he progresses and moves forward. So, it gives us a lot more depth now at the offensive line position, that’s for sure.”
Center Jason Kelce is the only veteran starter on the Eagles' offensive line who hasn’t missed a game. Guard Nate Herbig has played well on the left or right side, but the other guard spot has been a problem; Matt Pryor hasn’t been good, and Jamon Brown and Sua Opeta were awful in one-game cameos. So ultimately, either Peters or Mailata might be an upgrade there.
You could make the case that game reps anywhere are useful to Mailata, still a football novice, whose first-ever appearance in a meaningful football game came in the season opener; he played 18 snaps as a sub for Jack Driscoll at right tackle. (Driscoll, sidelined by an ankle injury, did not practice Wednesday.) If you’re looking at preparing Mailata for next season, there is Dillard, drafted in the first round in 2019, to consider in the left tackle picture.
Mailata was here two years before he played in a game, and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland moved him around in preseason game and practice work to ensure he would have the versatility that backup linemen need. Mailata worked mostly at right tackle last season.
Kelce explained what adjustments Mailata will have to make if he indeed plays in Johnson’s spot against the Cowboys.
“It’s always going to be a switch up, trying to switch stances when you’ve played at one spot for a while, and that’s anybody,” Kelce said. "Especially when you’re going over to the other side of the ball. You’ve got a different foot back, there’s a different balance that you’re working with – you want your weight more on your inside leg – you have a different dominant hand that you’re using in pass pro.
“There are little differences, but he’s not completely new to that. … Wherever Jordan plays, I’m sure that he’ll be ready to go.”
Defensive end Brandon Graham was asked whether he has a harder time getting around Peters (6-foot-4, 328) or Mailata (6-8, 346).
“They both bring some good stuff to the table. They’re both big,” Graham said. “Jordan definitely is … not as experienced as J.P., but I feel like, if you’re just thinking about how big he is, Jordan is the hardest one to get around.”