If there is one thing Eagles fans agree on right now, it’s that Jordan Mailata belongs on the field, not on the bench.
A 2-4-1 start has brought the public around, with gusto, to the “retooling” perspective general manager Howie Roseman introduced at the start of last offseason. Many fans would happily chuck just about every over-30 veteran overboard before Tuesday’s trade deadline, regardless of the compensation.
But if 38-year-old Jason Peters returns to the lineup Sunday night against Dallas, it seems Mailata will not take the field at left tackle, where he has started the Eagles' last four games, to generally good reviews.
Mailata has been practicing this week at right tackle. There is a chance he won’t start there, either, given that the regular starter, Lane Johnson, was a limited practice participant Thursday.
Mailata could, indeed, end up back on the bench Sunday. As more injured Eagles return to the lineup over the next several weeks, this could spark a major discussion – is trying to win the threadbare NFC East, quite possibly with a losing record, worth delaying the development of young players who figure to be crucial to the team’s success in 2021, and beyond?
When Mailata spoke to reporters Thursday, he didn’t demand to stay in the lineup. In the three seasons he has been an Eagle, after leaving Australia and taking up the game as a novice, there hasn’t been much that Mailata, now 23, hasn’t taken in stride.
“I think I was doing my job. I was doing the best I can,” Mailata said, when asked how he thought he was handling his first substantive NFL action. “Was it perfect? Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t. But, you know, as for keeping the job, again, I can only control what I can control, and I can only put out for the universe what I give, so it’s not up to me.”
The Eagles still seem deferential to Peters, their nine-time Pro Bowl tackle, despite all the injuries and the way he struggled in the first three games this season, before suffering a toe injury. Mailata was asked how he balances having a potential Hall of Fame veteran as his competition against his need to develop.
“This is part of football. I understand that now, this is my third year on the team,” Mailata said. "Trying to make a name for myself, I think, [includes] just doing all the little things, like correcting the details and just being whatever team player you need to be, whatever player you need to be on the game days, during practice.
“I think that’s still solidifying a name for myself. I try to be as diverse as I can, and be that player that can play any position.”
If the Eagles and Johnson decide it would be wise to let Johnson’s knee and ankle injuries heal through this weekend and the ensuing bye week, Mailata will start at right tackle. He practiced there almost exclusively in 2019, and his first 18 NFL snaps came at right tackle in the opener, when Johnson was out with the ankle and rookie Jack Driscoll went down in the third quarter.
“The right side is definitely getting there now … the more reps that I can get at right tackle, the more comfortable I feel. It’s just all about detailing out my technique,” Mailata said.
Asked about the transition, Mailata said it doesn’t bother him much, He just greets a different guard, Nate Herbig on the left or Matt Pryor on the right.
“I’m like, 'Cool. ‘Sup, Matt Pryor? What’s going on, man? I’m back.’ And if I go back to left, I’m like ‘I’m back, Herby.’ So that’s pretty much it,” he said. “I’m comfortable both sides, obviously more comfortable on the left, but any time I can get a rep in the ones, I’m cheering, I’m all for it.”
Mailata was asked to rank his four starts. He put San Francisco first because it was his first victory, and last week’s encounter with the Giants last. The Thursday night game definitely was his worst. Mailata gave up a sack and five pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. It was Mailata’s first experience with a short prep week.
“I think it just got to me,” he said. “My legs were gassed, and I just kept trying to push through it, push through it, push through it.”
Having never played a string of football games before, Mailata might not have expected the soreness that other players take for granted. Asked how he was holding up, Mailata used an expression that the Outback Dictionary defines as meaning “sick or badly made.”
“Mate, my body is crook. Crook, mate. It is so sore,” he said. “I have to come in every day to do recovery, that’s how I stay on top of things. I wake up at 6, get in here at like 6:30, 7, and then start doing recovery straight away before practice and even after practice. It’s something that’s making me feel better every day and that’s how I’m staying on top of my fitness.”
When someone takes up a sport as an adult, you might wonder about dedication, about whether they are in it for the money or if they really deeply commit to what they’re doing, if they take it to heart. If this is a problem for Mailata, he’s doing a good job of hiding it.
Asked if starting four games has given him more confidence, Mailata said: “I’m telling you, any time I can get in the game, I’m licking my fingers, licking my lips, I’m ready to go.
"It’s such a great feeling to be out there, I understand why people play so long and why they love the sport. Once I got the taste, it’s like, ‘I want more,’ but steady goes.”