Eagles

Remembering how far Mailata has come since rookie training camp

Eagles

Jordan Mailata on Saturday signed a four-year extension worth $64 million to remain the Eagles’ starting left tackle through the 2025 season.

Considering how far he’s come in just a few years, that’s remarkable.

Back in 2018, during Mailata’s rookie training camp, I chatted with him weekly for a series called Surviving Camp. It tracked his progress throughout the summer as he learned the game of football. Since Mailata is now entrenched as the Eagles’ left tackle of the future, it’s a good time to revisit that series.

Here it is in its entirety:

Part 1: This all new

Originally ran July 27, 2018

On Day 1 of training camp, it took all of about four minutes until Jordan Mailata received a message from a screaming Jeff Stoutland. The offensive line coach wanted to let the huge 21-year-old know what he’s in for.

“OTAs are over!” Stoutland shouted.

Pretty soon, Mailata understood exactly what his coach meant. The biggest guy on the team went through all the spring practices with the Eagles. He was there for OTAs and for the mandatory minicamp, but neither of them compare to what he’s seen during the first two days of training camp at the NovaCare Complex.

“It’s way different than OTAs,” Mailata said after Day 2. “There’s more intensity here, the intensity has risen so much, especially with the heat in our faces all the time.”

Mailata got back to Philadelphia about a week ago, last Friday, after spending the previous four weeks in his home country of Australia. While back at home, the 6-foot-8 offensive tackle did his best to continue physically training and working on technique, but Down Under there aren’t a ton of extra tools for someone hoping to hone their skills in American football.

 

“I had some people helping me out, but at the same time, it did feel like I was on my own,” Mailata said.

He said he went home because he didn’t have a place to stay here in Philadelphia and since he’s unsure about whether or not he’ll make the team and be here long term, he decided to head home. At least he got to see his friends and family.

He doesn’t have much time for friends or family right now, so it’s probably just as well that they’re thousands of miles away. For the first two days of training camp, Mailata has been putting in 12-hour days. He wakes up at 6 a.m., spends all day at the NovaCare Complex working out, practicing, going to meetings and studying, gets to rest his eyes for a few hours, before waking up at 6 and doing it all again.

NFL training camp is something very new to Mailata. When he played rugby, they didn’t really have a training camp, just a long preseason that lasted three or four months with a ton of running. He admitted this is a new intensity in the heat, with the helmets and the pads … and then he remembered all the pads haven’t even come on yet.

The Eagles’ first padded practice will come tomorrow.

“I’m going to have jelly legs tomorrow,” he said. “If my legs feel like this today, I can only imagine what they’re going to feel like tomorrow.”

Mailata realizes how difficult all of this is. Most of his teammates who are battling for the same roster spots as him have been playing football for most of their lives. He’s been doing it less than a year. Sometimes, he definitely thinks about his chances to make the team; it’s what motivates him. But at other times, he needs to push that to the back of his mind and focus on the little things that Stoutland wants him to focus on. If he doesn’t, Stout will let him know.

It’s a long training camp and Mailata is just beginning.

His goal for the next week: “I think I just want to be more intelligent with reading defensive players, assessing the (defensive) end. That’s the one place where I’m struggling at the moment.”

Part 2: More comfortable with guitar in hand

Originally ran Aug. 3, 2018

Most of the Eagles’ rookies don’t have a future in music. When they got in front of their teammates to perform in the annual rookie talent show, they sang off key, forgot the words and some even got booed off the stage.

Not Jordan Mailata.

 

In fact, the 21-year-old rookie offensive tackle is more at home with a guitar in his hand than he is trying to pancake a defensive lineman. That showed during his performance of Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One” during the running show.

It’s just pretty funny that while most of his fellow rookies feel more comfortable on the football field than they do performing a song, it’s the exact opposite for Mailata.

“The coach has been saying to me since I got here, ‘these guys have been playing since they were 5 years old,’” Mailata said. “Well, I’ve been playing music since I was 5. For me, that’s normal. The coach says, ‘you can memorize all the songs, but you can’t memorize all the plays.’ Like I said, I’ve been doing this my whole life.”

Mailata plays the guitar, drums, piano, ukulele and bass guitar. We found video evidence of a young (and skinny) Mailata showing off the pipes in this video from 2012.

He’s one of five siblings, four boys and an oldest sister — and they’re all musically talented. Mailata says everyone tells him they should start a family band.

“You could do a Jackson 5 thing … the Mailata 5,” I suggest.

“The Mailata 5, that’s original as hell,” he shot back, before agreeing that if it ever happens, I’ll get credit. “We’ve been playing since we were young. We can all play instruments. The Mailata 5 isn’t too bad of an option.”

But, for now, the former rugby player is focused on trying to make a career out of playing a sport he began to learn less than a year ago. This really could have gone one of two ways; but thanks to being coachable, Mailata has already shown a ton of improvement.

Now, he still has a long way to go, but we’re seeing flashes. On one running play near the goal line yesterday, Mailata had a lead block on a touchdown run from Josh Adams. Parts of run blocking are easier for Mailata, but he admitted other parts are pretty hard. He's been up and down during OL-DL 1-on-1s, as you'd imagine.

We’re now less than a week away from Mailata’s first football game. Not his first NFL game … his first football game. When asked if he’s ready for that, Mailata said to check back with him later. As the game gets closer, he wants to talk to the coaches more about how the O-line should work as a unit. After a few months in football, Mailata realizes how everything he does affects the entire front five.

Each week we’re going to ask Mailata to pick a goal for the following week. Last week, he said he wanted to be able to read defensive ends better. He said he’s “definitely” improved in that area, but still needs to get better. He said there are so many different looks a defensive end can give and noted they’re really good at disguising them.

 

His goal for next week: “Next week, my hands. My punching hands. I tried to work on it this week as well. But by next week, I want to be able to properly use my hands the best way I can.”

Part 3: Staying relaxed before first game

Originally ran Aug. 13, 2018

Jordan Mailata woke up at around 9:30 a.m. last Thursday morning but instead of being overcome with a feeling of “oh bleep, I have to play in my first-ever football game,” he was actually able to relax thanks to a welcome visitor.

Mailata’s older sister Sese, the eldest of five Mailata children, flew all the way from Australia to watch her little brother’s American football debut.

Instead of spending his morning worrying about the craziness of what was to come that night, Mailata enjoyed “brekkie” (a slang term for breakfast in Australia) with his sister.

“It was really nice to have that alone time,” Mailata said. “It was the calm before the storm."

But of course, the storm came.

By the time Mailata got on the sideline before the game, the crowd of nearly 70,000 people began filing into the Linc. It was the biggest crowd he’s ever played in front of, surpassing the 40,000 that showed up for the open practice a couple weeks ago.

The biggest surprise of the night didn’t have anything to do with the crowd or even the game itself. It was the change in personality from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who has been riding Mailata hard since the spring each day in practice. 

See, Stoutland prefers to do his yelling during the week, leaving game day for positive encouragement.

“Oh my God,” Mailata said through some laughter. “I thought he was possessed by an angel. Not a demon. I thought he was possessed by an angel on game day. Is that even possible? Be possessed by an angel?

“But I’m telling you, there’s a method to the madness. Because when he’s talking to you real light, you listen even more."

Mailata watched the first half of Thursday’s game but started getting loose when he was told he would be playing in the second half. Unfortunately, his legs went stiff as soon as he got on the field.

The 21-year-old rookie in his first NFL (heck, his first football) game, gave up a sack almost as soon as he got in there, but then settled down nicely. He would have preferred to get off to a better start but was pleased with how quickly he was able to make adjustments.

The next day, back at the NovaCare Complex, Mailata was able to dive into the film from the game. He thinks being able to see himself in game action will help him identify mistakes and get them corrected.

Each time we talk, I’ve been asking Mailata to set a goal for the following week. His goal for the last week was to improve his hands. He thinks that’s “improved a lot.” He really wanted to become a more violent hand-puncher and he credits Stoutland and his veteran teammates for helping him get better in that area.

 

His goal for the next game: “Staying more balanced when I’m using my hands. I’ve noticed as training goes on, I’ve started to get tired, fatigued, and I’m starting to lean a bit more now. So I’ve got to keep my head out and beat that end to that spot. That’s one thing that I want to improve on as well as my run game. My run game is always something to approve on. This week, I’m trying to just pitter-patter my feet and not overstep.”

Part 4: Learning from all-time greats

Originally ran Aug. 21, 2018

Jordan Mailata thought he had a good week of practice. He thought he was showing even more improvement. And he wanted the chance to show that against the Patriots last Thursday.

Then he played just four snaps.

“I had a lot of good highs and expected to carry that into the game,” Mailata said, “and got just four snaps. There’s nothing I can do about that; I don’t control that.”

What Mailata can control, he does. Like well before Thursday’s game when he had a long training session with future Hall of Famer Jason Peters. Really, that was probably the most productive part of Mailata’s day.

While most young offensive linemen in the NFL have probably worshipped Peters since they were in middle school, Mailata has known about Peters for several months. He learned about Peters watching film while he was in Florida training to try to make a career of American football. It makes sense: if you’re trying to teach a giant Aussie who has never played a snap of football in his life to play offensive tackle, watching Peters is a good start.

When Mailata was at IMG Academy in the winter, he was shown videos of several top offensive linemen like Trent Williams, Tyron Smith, Lane Johnson, and, of course, Peters.

“Then seeing J.P. in person, seeing him train, that’s another thing,” Mailata said. “He’s like an alien. He’s a freak. He really is.”

Peters has plenty on his plate. He’s been working his way back from a season-ending ACL injury and subsequent surgery but is committed to helping his rookie teammates, including a guy who has never played before.

Mailata said during practice that after the first-team reps are done, the first- and third-teams watch the second stringers face off. That leaves some time for the perennial Pro Bowler and the former rugby player to chat. The former gives the latter plenty of tips.

“Honestly, I’m so lucky to be where I am right now,” Mailata said. “I think recognizing that, the players that are in the locker room, especially the veterans, we as rookies are incredibly blessed. Because not only do the coaches go out of their way, the players do too. They give us little tips.”

 

But that advice doesn’t just come from his teammates on the offensive line. A few times during training camp, Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett, who was acquired earlier this offseason, was seen spending some time working with Mailata after practice.

The main area Bennett stressed to Mailata was about his hand placement and punching. The cool thing is, as camp went on, Bennett saw the progress and then went back to Mailata with more advice. Next time, he stressed the importance of staying balanced.

“Michael B, he’s been a big help,” Mailata said. “He’s always encouraging me.”

It seems pretty clear that despite how raw Mailata is, his veteran teammates see the potential and want desperately to help bring it out.

His goal for the next week: “I think I just need to keep working on the same stuff again. This week, keep my pad level low in the run game and in pass pro as well. Just keep playing with low hips. That’s the massive feedback I’ve gotten from Stout. Now that we get limited reps, it’s very critical in the training session.”

Part 5: Jordan Mailata reflects on all his progress

Originally ran Aug. 28, 2018

Way back in late April, when the Eagles drafted Jordan Mailata in the seventh round, the former rugby player was at the draft in Dallas but hopped on a conference call to answer questions from reporters in Philadelphia.

That’s when I asked Mailata how much he knew about American football just a few months before. And that’s when he said something that has kind of stuck with him in the months since:

“Mate, as little as peanuts.”

Mailata joked he just used peanuts as an analogy because he loves food. With the final preseason game coming soon, and as it nears time for Mailata to learn his roster fate, it was time for yet another progress report.

He gave the update in the only appropriate way.

“I’d say … we’d have probably a quarter of the bag,” Mailata said Sunday afternoon. “I don’t know how many peanuts that is or how big the peanuts are. Maybe they’re big peanuts.”

Big peanuts, small peanuts, a quarter of a bag, half a bag, it doesn’t really matter. Call it whatever you want. The important part is that Mailata started with almost no understanding of a game he was setting out to play professionally and in a few months has probably already shown enough for the Eagles to think they might be on to something. He’s come incredibly far, even just in the last five weeks we’ve been meeting weekly for progress reports.

On Sunday, when I told Mailata this was our last meeting for the series, he joked he might cry. “Five weeks feels like two months,” he said.

When we began this series, I likened Mailata to an infant, assuming we’d see monumental growth in short periods of time. I nailed that one. Because of Mailata’s inexperience, paired with his incredible athleticism, we’ve seen him grow leaps and bounds every week this summer.

 

He couldn’t help but laugh when asked what his film from the spring looked like compared to the film from Thursday’s game against the Browns.

“Oh wow, it’s atrocious,” Mailata said. “It probably still is atrocious now, but back then, when I came for rookie minicamp, it was pretty bad.”

The most striking difference about Mailata from then to now is just how much smoother he is. After months of repeating technique, his muscle memory is beginning to take over. He still looks like a really raw football player, but he doesn’t look completely foreign to the game anymore.

The one area in which Mailata thinks he’s improved the most since coming to Philadelphia is in pass protection. In rugby, he was used to going forward. But as an offensive tackle, it took a lot of time to get used to retreating and then blocking. Mailata said he has a “growth mindset” and still has a long way to go as a pass protector.

But his skills were clearly on display Thursday in Cleveland. He expected to play very little and was surprised when the coaches told him to go in as early as he did. He ended up playing 26 snaps (39 percent).

“Last week, the big emphasis was on focusing for four seconds out there. That’s all. Four seconds,” said Mailata, talking about the real-time length of a play. “Think about your assignment and carry out your assignment with everything you’ve got.

“[Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] was like, ‘You should be coming off the field asking for an air tank!’ That was my goal last week. I tried to do that the best I can. And the next thing you know, I was grabbing the air tank. He was like, ‘That’s how you should feel!’”

During this process, Mailata has given a ton of credit to Stoutland and to his veteran teammates who have helped him along the way. That’s fair; without them, he’d probably be drowning.

But Mailata deserves a ton of credit too. All the athleticism in the world wouldn’t have meant squat if he wasn’t coachable, if he wasn’t willing to learn from his mistakes and if he didn’t have the patience to go from knowing nothing about a sport to playing it professionally in less than a year.

Based on how well Mailata has played this summer, the Eagles might be forced to keep him on their active roster for fear of poachers. Other NFL teams have noticed how good he’s looked too.

With that in mind, it seems likely Mailata is able to land on the Eagles’ roster, even if he doesn’t play at all this season.

 

“We’ll see,” Mailata said. “Still got one more game to go. Nothing is concrete yet. I’m just focusing this game.”

He’s focused on Thursday, but his future after that appears very bright.

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