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Could Jordan Mailata be the Eagles’ starting left tackle in 2019?

Jordan Mailata is a former rugby player who knew little about football before the Eagles drafted him in April. But the 6-8, 346-pound Aussie has made giant strides and suited up last week for the first time.

Eagle offensive lineman, #68 Jordan Mailata, left, holds the blocking pad and provides resistance to fellow lineman #62, Jason Kelce, right, during Sunday's practice at the NovaCare Center on September 2, 2018. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Eagle offensive lineman, #68 Jordan Mailata, left, holds the blocking pad and provides resistance to fellow lineman #62, Jason Kelce, right, during Sunday's practice at the NovaCare Center on September 2, 2018. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff PhotographerRead moreMichael Bryant

Every day at the end of practice, Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland walks over to rookie offensive tackle Jordan Mailata, raises his right hand and puts his thumb and index finger about a half-inch apart in front of the player's face.

Mailata knows what the gesture means.

"[Get] a little bit better every day,'' Mailata said with a smile. "He asks me that at the end of every [practice] session. Did you get better? There are only two answers — yes or no. If you give him the wrong answer, he'll let you know.''

For Mailata, the right answer almost always has been yes. While the 21-year-old Aussie certainly has experienced his share of growing pains during his transition from rugby player to NFL offensive tackle, he's also made steady and remarkable improvement for a guy who had never played a down of football before the Eagles selected him in the seventh round of the draft in April.

Last Sunday, Mailata reached another milestone in his development when he was activated for the first time this season against Carolina.

He didn't play against the Panthers. It was strictly a precautionary measure because both of the team's starting tackles, Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, were playing with injuries.

But it's another indication that Mailata is continuing to gain the trust of the Eagles' coaching staff, particularly Stoutland.

"How many guys are that big and can move that fast?'' Stoutland said recently of the 6-foot-8, 346-pound Mailata. "Those are called critical factors.

"He's unusual. I like unusual. Those are your best players. Those are the guys that end up becoming your best players.

"When you look at a guy who has the critical factors that he has, now you say, 'OK, when I sit down with him, does he have the mindset to play offensive line? Can he learn all this stuff?' ''

So far, the answer to those questions has been absolutely, positively yes. This most definitely is not Danny Watkins. He is all in on football.

"I've told him, this isn't rugby,'' Stoutland said. "You have to make decisions in a split second, and move and bump people off. I told him, this is where it's going to be way different for you.

"But I love his disposition. The guy never gets down on himself. He's always happy. He's never had a bad day.

"When you play this game and you get beat up, whether it's through the press or through a coach or whatever, you've got to be able to bounce back and come back. Every player has to deal with that. And he's got the right mindset.''

If Mailata continues to progress, and there's no reason to believe he won't, he just could be the leading candidate to replace Peters as the team's season-opening starting left tackle next year, assuming the 36-year-old future Hall of Famer doesn't return, which is never a safe assumption to make.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who started 13 games for the Eagles at left tackle last season after Peters tore his ACL, including their three playoff wins, is the team's top backup tackle right now.

But the Eagles seem to view the versatile Vaitai, who can play on either the left or right side, as the ideal backup rather than the ideal long-term left tackle.

They also could move Johnson over to the left side, which was the original plan when they drafted him in 2013 when it first looked like Peters might be near the end. But that ship seems to have sailed. Johnson has made an All-Pro home for himself at right tackle.

"It's been a massive learning curve, but I've enjoyed it,'' Mailata said. "I love it. And I've got to keep learning.

"Right now, I'm focused on getting better every day. Coach Stout gives me a mission and my goal is to keep getting better. Hopefully, when the time comes and they think I'm ready, all of the training I'm doing will pay off and I'll be prepared to execute.''

Mailata and Stoutland have established a close teacher-pupil bond. There isn't much the Aussie disagrees with Stoutland about, though he said the never-has-a-bad-day comment isn't totally accurate.

"I do get down on myself,'' he said. "There are days when it's dark and I have to rely on the boys to pull me out.

>> READ MORE: Eagles finish their work in Philadelphia, head to London

"But I think it's important not to stay down. You have to acknowledge where you went wrong and try to establish what you did wrong and do it the right way.

"Stout's hard on me and I love it. I'm even harder on myself because I hold myself to a high standard. Even though I'm not familiar with the sport, I still demand a high standard.''

Is he pleased with his progress?

"I am happy,'' he said. "But I don't want to settle. I don't want to be content. Like today. I had a couple of snaps [in practice] where I misread the D-end. The rest were fine. But I need to keep on top of it and try to stay focused.''

And keep getting a little better every day.

The Zach & Alshon show

Doug Pederson has said on numerous occasions over the three years he's been the Eagles' head coach that his offense works best when the quarterback is spreading the ball around. Both of his quarterbacks, Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, have said the same thing.

But in the last four games, the preponderance of Wentz's passes have gone to two players — tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

Eighty-four of Wentz's 158 passes in the last four games, or 53.2 percent, have been targeted for Ertz (45) and Jeffery (39).

The pair have caught an impressive 61 of those 84 passes (a 72.6 catch rate). They have been on the receiving end of 41 of Wentz's 62 passing first downs in the last four games (66.1 percent), and have accounted for 709 of Wentz's 1,247 passing yards in those games (56.8 percent).

It's been good for Ertz and Jeffery, who are well on their way to some prolific pass-catching numbers and two more Pro Bowl invitations. But is it good for the Eagles offense?

Take out their 34-13 win over the godawful Giants a couple of weeks ago, and the Eagles have averaged just 20 points per game this season. That's 8.6 points per game less than last season.

"We've got two guys that have been playing at a very high level and they have been productive and have been getting the ball,'' offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "Carson has a lot of trust in those guys and they've been getting themselves open.

"But we do need to keep everybody involved. I do think that helps every offense stay balanced and keeps the defense honest.''

Slot receiver Nelson Agholor, who had a breakout season last year, is averaging just 8.5 yards per catch, which is nearly 4 yards less than last year. He led the team in third-down receptions last year, but has just two in the last four games.

Ertz is second in the league in receptions with 57. He's on pace to catch 130 passes, which would be 50 more catches than he's ever had before in his career.

How can that be bad, right?

"If we're well over a 70 percent catch rate, that's pretty good,'' Ertz said. "And we've been at that.

"At the same time, we've got a lot of good players on offense and everyone needs to touch the ball. When everyone's touching the ball is when everyone's excited about going in there.

"Then you're able to play with more confidence. Especially early in the game. It's tough not to touch the ball for a half and then be expected to go out there and produce in the second half.

"But we're just trying to do the best that we can. It's not like we're going into games saying, 'Zach and Alshon are going to get all the targets.' It's just kind of where we are pre-snap. And how the defense reacts pre-snap is kind of where the ball's going to go.''

Figuring the Eagles

— The Eagles have converted just two of 27 third-down opportunities of 10 yards or more this season (7.4 percent). Last year, they converted 20 of 67 (29.8 percent). They've also converted just 11 of 19 third downs of 2 yards or less (57.9 percent). That's nearly a 10 percent drop over last year (67.6 percent).

— Sunday's game brings together two of the slowest-starting teams in the NFL. The Eagles, who had the highest first-quarter point differential in the league last year (plus-58), are 28th in first-quarter scoring this season (3.0). The Jaguars are 29th (2.9).

— In their last three games, the Jags have been outscored 23-0 in the first quarter and 57-0 in the first half.

— Last year through seven games, Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox had 16 total quarterback pressures. This year, he has 42.

— Two hundred forty-four of the Eagles' 480 offensive plays (50.9 percent) have been run with 12 (1RB, 2TE) or 13 (1RB, 3TE) personnel. One hundred forty-eight of those 244, or 60.7 percent, have been pass plays. Last year, the Eagles ran just 31.3 percent of their offensive plays with 12/13 personnel.

>> READ MORE: By weekend's end, everyone in London will know how to spell E-A-G-L-E-S

— Opposing quarterbacks have a 100.8 passer rating against the Eagles in the fourth quarter and overtime this season, and an 87.6 rating in the first three quarters.

— The Jaguars are 31st in the league in turnover differential (minus-12) and the Eagles are tied for 27th (minus-4). The two teams have a combined 11 takeaways.

— Wendell Smallwood is averaging 3.9 yards per carry with 11 personnel, 5.1 with 12 personnel, and 5.4 with 13 personnel. Corey Clement is averaging 2.5 with 11, 4.8 with 12 and 3.2 with 13.

— Last year, the Eagles averaged 4.72 yards per carry on first down, which was the second-best rush average in the league on first down. Through seven games this season, they're averaging just 4.32, which is 17th.

— The Eagles' 11 false-start penalties are the sixth most in the league. Left tackle Jason Peters has four of them. No one else has more than one. In the seven seasons with the Eagles in which he has played at least 13 games, Peters has averaged 5.1 false starts per season. His career high was 10 in 2016.