Eagles

What OTAs tell us about Jordan Mailata and Halapoulivaati Vaitai

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What OTAs tell us about Jordan Mailata and Halapoulivaati Vaitai

It was easy to see the Andre Dillard selection as a blow to Jordan Mailata.

Here’s Mailata, just coming off his rookie season, thinking he had a chance to move past Halapoulivaati Vaitai and bec0me the Eagles’ No. 3 tackle behind Jason Peters and Lane Johnson.

Next thing you know, they draft an offensive tackle in the first round.

Just like that, conventional wisdom said Mailata — the massive former rugby player who became such an intriguing prospect last year — was no longer the heir apparent at left tackle.

Most people would take it as a demotion. And it would be understandable.

Not Mailata.

The good-natured Aussie said he was anything but disappointed when the Eagles picked Dillard out of Washington State with the 22nd pick last month.

“Why would I be?”

Well, maybe it will slow down your route to the field?

“I don’t think it slows down anything,” he said. “I think every year they’re going to choose the best people to draft, and ‘Dre just happened to be one of the best tackles in the draft and obviously you want that. You want that on your team. I want that on my team. I don’t believe it hinders my progression or where they have me on the depth chart. I think it’s just a plus for us that we got ‘Dre, and for me it’s going to make me work harder. He’s a great guy. At the end of the day, it doesn’t hinder my progression.”

One of the more interesting developments of the first week of OTAs was the way the offensive tackle position appears to have evolved.

Mailata may be behind Peters, Johnson and Dillard, but he’s clearly ahead of Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who in the span of 15 months has gone from starting left tackle in a Super Bowl triumph to — at least at practice on Tuesday — a backup guard.

Big V, who played better and better down the stretch in 2017, struggled last year and only took reps at guard during the one open practice so far.

That could obviously change. It’s only May. But it certainly looks right now that Mailata is in the plans at tackle and Vaitai isn’t.

Another interesting development is that Dillard is only taking reps at left tackle, at least for now, and Mailata is working at both left and right tackle.

So if Peters gets hurt — and that’s been a recurring theme recently —  Dillard goes in. But at least for now, Mailata is the No. 2 right tackle. Would the Eagles really go with the untested Mailata, who has never played a meaningful snap of organized football on any level in his life, ahead of Dillard if Johnson got hurt?

Impossible to say at this point.

The one thing we do know is that Mailata is dramatically ahead of where he was last year.

Last year, yeah, it was crazy,” he said. “It’s day and night for me from I walked in last year till now. Everything. Understanding the playbook, understanding the technique — everything. I always think about it. I like to reflect and tell myself how far I’ve come. It’s like night and day. Put the old footage on. Oh God. I was crazy the whole time. I was watching it today. Gives me a chance to reflect how far I’ve come.

Mailata said he’s almost fully healed from the back injury that landed him on Injured Reserve in December.

Once the pads go on in August, we’ll see how far Mailata really has come and everybody’s role will crystallize.

Mailata is only 21. He’s still got a long way to go, but even with Peters, Johnson and Dillard in the mix, he’s convinced he fits into the Eagles’ long-term plans.

And when you look over and see Big V take reps at guard, you understand why.

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Are the 2019 Eagles better or worse at linebacker?

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Are the 2019 Eagles better or worse at linebacker?

The Eagles let a promising-yet-oft-injured potential star walk in the offseason, though the team was not idle, adding two quality players to mix. Will the linebackers be better off as a result in 2019?

Key additions: L.J. Fort (free agent, Steelers), Zach Brown (free agent, Redskins) 

Key departures: Jordan Hicks (free agent, Cardinals)

Why they could be better: Depth

Last summer, the battle for the Eagles’ third linebacker job was between Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry, neither of whom played much up to that point, and Corey Nelson, who didn’t even make the team. Grugier-Hill and Gerry are still in the mix here, though the competition for spots two through seven behind Nigel Bradham will be much stiffer.

Jordan Hicks’ departure does create another hole in the starting lineup, one likely to be filled by either L.J. Fort, Zach Brown or Grugier-Hill. But that trio all bring experience to the table — Brown has been to a Pro Bowl — plus Paul Worrilow returns from a torn ACL, offering another veteran presence. Gerry got some opportunities last year, and even he’ll be pushed by CFL star Alex Singleton and undrafted rookie/ All-American T.J. Edwards. How much deeper is this group? In 2018, the guys behind LB4 Gerry were all exclusively special teamers.

Why they could be worse: Down a playmaker

How much will the Eagles miss Hicks? Hard to say. They won a Super Bowl without him in 2017, and after missing more time last season, he eventually returned to find Bradham had taken over as the defense’s No. 1 linebacker. Can’t blame the club for its unwillingness to match $36 million over four years for somebody who’s injured so frequently.

That being said, there’s no denying Hicks seemingly has a nose for the football. He played only 43 games over four seasons, yet managed to amass 19 pass breakups, 7 interceptions, 5.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, six fumble recoveries and 12 tackles for loss. Only a small handful of players even come close to matching that big play production during the same span – none with at least as many of each, and all in at least 10 more games. When he’s on the field, Hicks is a difference-maker, an ability as difficult to replace as it can be to quantify.

The X-factor: Who takes Hicks’ spot?

It was kind of surprising Brown was still on the street in May. Sure, he turns 30 this year, coming off a season in which he lost his starting job in Washington and is nowhere near the impact player he was earlier in his career. He still posted over 200 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 22 tackles for loss over the last two years.

Brown may be best suited for LB3 snaps in the Eagles’ defense. There’s not a lot of blitzing, minimizing one of his best attributes of rushing the passer, and as he’s aged, his coverage ability has seemingly diminished. Yet, he’s still stout against the run, and who else is it going to be? This could wind up becoming more of a platoon role, with Brown seeing first- and second-down snaps, then either Fort or Grugier-Hill in the nickel. There’s potential in such an arrangement. The question is whether opponents will be able to attack the shortcomings of Hicks’ part-time replacements.

Are the Eagles’ linebackers better or worse?

There’s a chance the Eagles let a special one go in Hicks, but the bottom line is he’s seldom available anyway — an issue that issue dates back to college, by the way. On paper, you probably take Hicks over the field, including Bradham. However, in reality, having a bunch of competent, experienced players who will actually be in uniform might be the safer route at this point. BETTER

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The real reason this Kansas City radio host's attack on Andy Reid was out of line

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The real reason this Kansas City radio host's attack on Andy Reid was out of line

I get why people are so outraged by the comments made Monday by a Kansas City radio host who linked Tyreek Hill’s off-the-field issues with the death seven years ago of Andy Reid’s son Garrett.

The guy tried to make a case that Big Red’s inability to be a strict disciplinarian as both a parent and a coach was responsible for both. 

“It did not work out particularly well in his family life,“ is what Kevin Kietzman of Sports Radio 810 WHB said. “He’s had a lot of things go bad on him, family and players. He is not good at fixing people. He is not good at discipline.”

Of course, these sort of remarks are irresponsible, hurtful and off-base. But you consider the source and they're probably not all that surprising.

And let's be honest. We all understand you don’t record the eighth-most wins of any NFL head coach in history and the seventh-most playoff wins without being able to discipline players when it’s necessary. We’ve all seen coaches who truly are bad at this stuff, and they don’t have three losing seasons in 20 years. They don’t last three years.

So yeah, this isn’t about that. Andy doesn’t need to be defended. Not about this.

And outrage distracts us from the real point. The real shame of Kietzman’s comments is that he connects a lack of discipline with heroin addiction.

Garrett Reid, Andy’s oldest son, died during training camp in Bethlehem seven years ago from a heroin overdose after a long battle with addiction, and the notion that his death somehow was the result of his father not disciplining him enough shows such a lack of understanding of addiction and substance abuse.

Addiction is a mental health disorder. It’s a disease.

It’s not a weakness. It’s not a character flaw. It’s not a lack of discipline.

Treatment can help, but it’s a long and difficult process. The changes substance abuse cause in a person’s brain, the addictive traits of heroin and other opioids, make recovery difficult and in some cases impossible.

Garrett was a good kid, a smart kid, and he and his family battled his addiction for years.

Here’s part of Andy’s statement the evening Garrett died:

“We understood that Garrett's long-standing battle with addiction was going to be difficult. He will, however, always have our family's love and respect for the courage he showed in trying to overcome it.”

This guy doesn’t know Andy and the battle he and his family fought to try and help Garrett through that battle.

Addiction and substance abuse have become such an epidemic in our communities. Big city. Small town. Everywhere. All of us know someone who’s lost a family member. All of us have either directly or indirectly felt that pain.

What Kietzman said is wrong in so many ways, but worst of all is how he trivializes addiction by implying that a little parental discipline would have saved Garrett Reid’s life.

This was a horrible thing to say for a lot of reasons, and it’s been nice to see so many of Andy’s former players rallying behind him on social media.

No parents should have to go through what Andy and his family went through seven summers ago at Lehigh. No parents should have to go through this either.

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