To get to where he is now, a rising NFL offensive tackle, Jordan Mailata learned in baby steps. What do you make of this ginormous young man who played rugby in Australia and literally gained attention with the way he ran over average-sized people, enough to gain an invitation to a football-development camp in Florida where he … well, you know the story. The Eagles worked him, loved his athletic skill set – huge body, great feet, long arms, large hands – and used a seventh-round draft pick in 2018 on this long shot.
What you maybe didn't know is the Jordan Mailata behind the scenes. He played preseason football only in his first two seasons before spending the regular season on Injured Reserve. The Eagles reached out to him numerous times to appear at events with Season Ticket Members and, one spring, he made the trip to Mexico as part of a Beach Blitz fan trip.
And Mailata was always the star attraction with his outsized personality and the skills he brought to that table – he would sing and play his ukulele when asked and he was always there with a smile and warmth.
But could he play football?
"I always knew I could, once I had an understanding of the game and technique, what I was supposed to see and what I saw," Mailata said. "I felt coming into this year, and I talked about this with you, I expected this year to be the one I showed what kind of player I could be."
Mailata has played in all eight Eagles games, starting five of them. The first four starts happened at left tackle when Jason Peters was injured. In the Eagles' last game, right tackle Lane Johnson couldn't go, so Mailata, who had been told to "be ready" got the nod. He didn't have a lot of mental prep time. The Eagles expected Johnson to wake up on Saturday morning for that Sunday night game ready to play, but Johnson didn't feel right and on Sunday, Mailata stepped in. He had a rough start – Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence beat him cleanly for a sack of quarterback Carson Wentz on the second snap of the game – but otherwise Mailata played a solid game.
He passed another test. A guy who didn't know a thing about the NFL, or the game of football – is the ball pumped up or stuffed? – can now play both left tackle and right tackle and help a team win.
"I always remind myself of how far I've come and always then tell myself that I've still got a long ways to go. I've got so much more to work on. I do feel I bring value to this organization and this football team. I feel like I can be someone they can trust in situations. It makes me feel great," Mailata said. "It took me a minute to get comfortable. Once I got comfortable there, I found my little comfort zone and was able to rely on my technique and training. The biggest takeaway for me from switching over is getting comfy faster. How to start off a game playing like I do on the left side. That's my biggest takeaway from the Dallas game, 'How can I better myself to get more comfy and get settled in at right tackle.' That's one thing I'm going to do."
The maturation of Jordan Mailata is a credit to every phase of the football side of the Eagles' program. They saw him in Florida in that pre-draft setting and Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Jeff Stoutland fell in love with the skill set. Howie Roseman, even with a limited number of picks that year – the Eagles made five selections, traded up with New England to select Mailata with the 233rd overall pick. Then the Eagles played the patient game, giving Mailata time to understand the game, absorb technique, and get his body ready for the rugged nature of the NFL.
In Australia, Mailata ran through people – good athletes but nothing like the ones who play in this league. Here, every play is a high-speed collision. After his second preseason, in 2019, Mailata was worn out and, actually, injured at the end of the preseason, with an aching back that landed him on IR. The Eagles, in another credit to the development program, put Mailata on a strength and conditioning and athletic training regimen that made him right and prepared him for the rigors of being on the field.
Now we're seeing the results. Mailata has been far from perfect, but this big – as big as any player to ever grace the Eagles' locker room with his size-18 shoes – piece of clay the Eagles invested in during that 2018 NFL Draft is on the rise. On the rise in a big way.
As the Eagles last week reviewed the film of their win over Dallas, Stoutland had an overall message for Mailata. Now, for those who haven't heard Stoutland, he's a gregarious, enthusiastic speaker. He doesn't pull punches. His straight-shot approach works well with offensive linemen who revere him for the technique that he teaches and the method of presenting to his players. They love him. He makes them better. And Stoutland's message to Mailata was in line with what the Eagles think of a third-year player with eight regular-season games under his belt.
"He said I did a great job and also, I did a bad job," Mailata said. "He said, 'You did a great job, but it wasn't perfect. We've got a lot to work on.' He's a very short and simple guy."
Short and simple yes, but Stoutland has helped mold a complicated challenge into something that, someday, could be special, indeed.
"Oh, mate. The sky is the limit for me," Mailata said. "I can put in so much every day to be better than the person I was yesterday. Learning from mistakes is going to be my biggest challenge."
Already, Mailata has come a long way. What's exciting to think is how much more he growing and improving his has in front of him.