One would assume Jordan Mailata was beaten for a sack on the first play of his first NFL game because it was also the first time he was playing organized football at any level — but that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Judging from the way he played the rest of the night, nerves may have as much or more to do with Mailata getting beat than the fact he’s still totally new to the sport.
“Going into next week’s game against the Patriots, I’ll feel a bit more comfortable,” Mailata said after the Eagles’ 31-14 preseason loss to the Steelers (see breakdown). “I just had some jelly legs out there on my first snap.”
Mailata entered the game at left tackle in the third quarter and immediately received an education. Steelers linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi went right around the 6-foot-8, 346-pound Australia native and stripped the ball from Eagles backup quarterback Joe Callahan.
It felt like a harbinger of things to come for Mailata, a professional rugby player until the Eagles selected him with a seventh-round draft pick in April.
Instead, the 21-year-old elevated his performance.
“I tried to finish strong,” Mailata said. “I think I did reasonably — reasonably — well in the last quarter.”
Mailata was quiet the rest of the night, which is paying a compliment to an offensive lineman. He definitely wasn’t on the hook for any more sacks, didn’t make any glaring mistakes, wasn’t called for any penalties and didn’t really allow much more pressure on the quarterback.
At one point, Mailata even did something quantifiably good, jumping out of his stance while a Steelers defender was in the neutral zone before the snap to draw a five-yard penalty.
“[Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] usually at training says if a guy jumps, go ‘Oogaboogabooga,‘” Mailata said. “That’s what he calls it, oogaboogabooga.
“As soon as I saw him jump, I was like, ‘Oogaboogabooga.‘ In Stout we trust.”
Stoutland wasn’t the only person on the Eagles’ sideline lending a helping hand. Fellow left tackles Jason Peters and Halapoulivaati Vaitai were in Mailata’s ear the entire time, as were many other others.
“Everyone,” Mailata said. “Coach Stout, vets, everyone was helping me out. It was really nice having that support, especially after that first play and I f----- it up. That’s pretty much what happened, but I own my mistake and I know I’ve learned from it.
“I felt there was a lot at stake. At the same time, the vets kept reminding me just keep focusing on the next play. They told me, ‘You’re going to make mistakes, and when you make it, focus on the next one and we’ll fix it the next day.’”
It didn’t look like Mailata made too many mistakes, though. To the contrary, while it was only his first NFL game — first football game of any kind — it looked like this experiment may very well pay off for the Eagles.
“I love [football] now,” Mailata said. “I just need to get more comfortable and more confident. That’s the only way to improve my game.”