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May 11, 2019

What are the Eagles' plans for their extreme depth at OT, and lack thereof at G/C?

Eagles NFL
051119JordanMailata Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Mailata could settle in as an eventual swing tackle replacement for Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

In a league where many teams fail to field two good starting offensive tackles, the Philadelphia Eagles are absolutely loaded with talent on the edges, both in the short-term and the long-term.

As a visual, the Eagles' offensive line depth looks something like this:

 OT
 LTJason Peters Andre Dillard Jordan Mailata 
 RTLane Johnson Halalpoulivaati Vaitai  Matt Pryor


Johnson and Peters were easily the best OT pairing in the NFL before Peters got hurt during the Eagles' Super Bowl season in 2017. Peters' game fell off a bit in 2018, and while he started all 18 of the Eagles' games in 2018, he struggled to stay in them. Still, in the short-term, there's a strong argument to be made that Johnson and Peters remain the best OT pairing in the NFL heading into 2019. To be determined if Peters' game improves in 2019, being an extra year removed from his torn ACL, or if his age finally causes him to drop off substantially. The Eagles have plenty of contingency options if it's the latter.

Behind Peters and Johnson are a couple of guys who would be projected to start on plenty of other teams around the league in Dillard, the Eagles' first round pick, and fourth-year swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Dillard is a stud prospect best known for his ability in pass protection, while Vaitai is an experienced tackle with left-right versatility who has appeared in 39 games in 3 seasons, starting 17, including Super Bowl LII.

Then there's Jordan Mailata, whose growth from the first day of training camp to the final preseason had former NFL offensive fawning over his abilities on Twitter. He is a size-athleticism freak of nature with a high ceiling, but obviously, he is such an unpredictable study, seeing as the Eagles' first preseason game eight months ago was his first game, ever.

And finally, the team also likes second-year pro Matt Pryor, who they have been cross-training at RG and RT ever since they drafted him in the sixth round in 2018.

The Eagles' overabundance of depth at tackle is a great problem to have, but now they'll have to figure out what to do with it. 

Conversely, the Eagles' depth along the interior of their line is rather thin. 

Jason Kelce is the best center in the NFL, Brandon Brooks deservedly made two straight Pro Bowls in 2017 and 2018, and despite criticism in some circles, Issac Seumalo had a solid season in 2018 after taking over as the starter at LG for Steven Wisniewski mid-season.

Of course, Brooks may not be ready to start when the season begins, as he is still recovering from a torn Achilles suffered in the Eagles' playoff loss to the Saints. Additionally, the Eagles declined to pick up a nearly $4 million option on Stefen Wisniewski, making him a free agent, though he remains unsigned, and the team has not given out his number yet.

As noted above, Pryor is being cross-trained at RG and RT. Beyond him, barring a Wisniewski re-signing or the addition of some other veteran, there are no interior linemen reserves currently on the Eagles' roster who finished the 2019 season on a 53-man roster other than Pryor, who has no career snaps in the regular offense.

The Eagles did add a slew of interior offensive line prospects as undrafted free agents, who will have a chance to stick, but those certainly aren't players who you can rely on. Leaving out undrafted free agents, the interior OL depth chart looks something like this:

 Interior OL
LG Isaac Seumalo  
Jason Kelce  
RG Brandon Brooks Matt Pryor


And so, an obvious question to be asked is if the team intends on trying some of the backup tackles at guard. 
On Friday, Doug Pederson was asked specifically about Vaitai, Mailata, and Dillard.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai

"Listen, we're always going to cross-train those guys," Pederson said when asked directly if Vaitai and Mailata would be cross-trained at guard. "Big V obviously; left tackle, right tackle, vice versa. He's been able to do that, and we’re going to continue to do that with those guys."

Jordan Mailata

"This is a guy that I think we can cross-train, and maybe we cross-train him at both tackle spots, left tackle, right tackle," Pederson said. "He's second year now in our system and this will be a big off-season for him. He's a big-bodied guy, and I think he's athletic enough." 

Last year, Mailata almost exclusively trained at left tackle.

Andre Dillard

Pederson definitively ruled out cross-training Dillard at tackle and guard.

"Andre is different," he said. "We're just trying to get his feet wet with the playbook and get him moving around. At this time, we're just going to kind of keep him where he is at and let him play there."

Analysis

Dillard was a potential steal at pick No. 22 in the 2019 NFL Draft, and he has the potential to start at LT for the next 10 years. The Eagles' plan should be to get him as many practice reps at left tackle under Jeff Stoutland as they can, and not fill any of that valuable time having him learn a new position for short-term depth purposes. It is clearly the right move to leave him right where he is at left tackle, as the Eagles are doing.

Vaitai is in the final year of his rookie deal, and is already comfortable playing both tackle spots. As such, it would make sense to cross-train him at guard for short-term gains, while also not having to care about potentially stunting long-term growth at his original position since he'll likely leave in free agency next year anyway.

Meanwhile, it would seem that the Eagles could be grooming Mailata as a swing tackle, an important role that will open up when Dillard moves into the starting lineup, and Vaitai (likely) moves on to another team. The Eagles would be smart to add right tackle training to his regimen, but asking a guy who has been playing football for such an unprecedented, small period of time to already have to also learn how to play guard would probably be too much, too soon. 


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