Over the last few weeks, as the Eagles have been trying to decide who to keep on their 53-man roster, we’ve been catching up weekly with former Australian rugby player and Eagles’ seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata to track his progress as he tries to defy the odds and make the Eagles’ roster less than a year after starting his quest to play American football. This is the fifth and final part of our “Surviving Camp” series.
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.
.@Eagles #JordanMailata has improved more than ANY football player I have ever watched in 4 months . He has everything it takes to be a dominant player, except experience. Amazing transformation. #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/gurmylW6jB— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) August 24, 2018
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.