July 31, 2022
Jordan Mailata is the next man up. As a writer my late 20s, I've seen three total entrenched starting left tackles for the Eagles. Tra Thomas, a first-round pick who played with the Birds from 1998 to 2008, held down Donovan McNabb's blindside and made three Pro Bowls. In the 2009 offseason, the team swung a trade for Bills star Jason Peters, who put together a Hall of Fame career and made four All-Pro squads in midnight green, staying with the Eagles until 2020. A new player in Mailata has taken up that mantle as the franchise left tackle, but he was an unlikely candidate for the role.
In a city where people half-serious/half-joking asked if Mailata should be playing fullback for a few years, the left tackle now stands (or towers at 6'8") as the future of an Eagles offensive line that has been the most consistent unit in Philly sports over the last two decades. Mailata lingered on the Eagles roster in 2018 and 2019 despite not playing a snap of "real" football in his life, shocked everyone with his competency after being thrust into action in 2020 as his potential oozed and then helped anchor the offense for perhaps the best o-line in football in 2021.
It's been a whirlwind turn from rugby star to a player I expect to be garnering All-Pro consideration this fall in less than a half-decade. The initial returns are greater than even the most optimistic members of the Eagles organization could've fathomed, taking a flyer on an Australian guy in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft who now looks poised to be the team's left tackle the rest of this decade. That early success isn't lost on Mailata, but the hungriness that had him rising from a player who never put on a chin strip before to an LT winning battles against the best pass-rushers in the league is still there.
"Easy. It's easy," Mailata said after Eagles practice on Saturday about keeping that drive going. "For me, it's just, like, I know being an international player, there's always going to be that chip on my shoulder. People aren't going to respect me, so I've got to prove it every day. I've got to earn it every day. Every day, you've got to make daily deposits. That's the same mentality that I've had since I was a rookie. It's the same mentality I have now.
"So, I think for me, it's just been easy just to have that mentality of being that dog that I need to prove myself every year, every game, every day."
Hungry dogs run faster, indeed.
Mailata knows that praise is there and will keep coming. The guy never played football before and then ended up in the most frantic football city in the world with an open-book personality that easily endeared himself to the Eagles faithful.
"I think it's nice, but like [Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] said, it's poison," Mailata said about the buzz around his game as he makes a leap to stardom. That line of "poison" is one that Jalen Hurts has made mention of in the past too, a hallmark of Nick Saban philosophy down at the University of Alabama, where Stoutland previously coached under Saban.
"I take it with a grain of salt," Mailata continued. "I appreciate the kind remarks, but at the same time, I know that I could've been a little bit more better. And I know if it's a bad rep, then I know it's a bad rep, then I can look myself in the mirror and say that, 'Look, you've got to get better at that.' I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses, so it's up to me to hold myself accountable to this team."
I wouldn't say Mailata has had many bad reps, if any, after the first week of Eagles practice. During training camp when players are just in shells and helmets, it can be hard to truly evaluate the running game and trench play. That physicality is a different world come August and then the regular season. It's glorified 7-on-7s in the summer to a degree. Eagles fans won't have to wait too long to hear about that souped-up, legit action though, as it's on his way next week.
"I can't wait for the pads to come on," Mailata said.
He speaks for the entirety of Philadelphia there.
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