Jordan Mailata spent the 2018 season waiting in the wings.
The Eagles’ 21-year-old tackle made headlines after being selected in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft despite having never played a down of American football. The Australian rugby player had to start from scratch in learning the sport he was expected to play professionally.
But Mailata’s pure, physical talent made up for any lack of knowledge. The youngest player on the team was also the tallest and heaviest at 6-8, 346 pounds. He became too big for rugby but was a perfect size for the Eagles’ offensive line.
Mailata told reporters following his first practices that he knew “peanuts” about football. He got to work right away and quickly picked up more peanuts as he began to turn heads in Training Camp practices.
In his first ever football game, a preseason clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 9, Mailata allowed a sack on his first play. It was a fast adjustment. He settled in after that and dominated, even catching the eye of experts around the league.
That’s high praise.
But Mailata’s action at Lincoln Financial Field halted after the last preseason game on August 30. He was only active for a handful of games in the 2018 regular season and played on the scout team in practice. On December 14, he was placed on the Injured Reserve list with a back injury, ending his rookie campaign.
Fans may have wondered what happened to a player they hoped to see by the end of the season in some capacity. At Monday’s locker room clean-out, Mailata provided an update on his injury status.
“I’ll be all right to get back once the OTAs come around,” Mailata said. “I have six weeks off with no lifting, no practice. I see the spine doctor this week. I’m going to find out how long it will take for the rehab process to begin, and hopefully by the end of the 4-6 weeks I’ll be able to do my daily lift and whatnot.”
The injury, which appears to be a minor setback, did cut off any small chance of Mailata making an appearance this season. But otherwise, everything is going according to plan. The Eagles expected to play the long game in developing Mailata and the process has been rewarding for him.
“The last thing I expected was to learn a lot about myself,” Mailata said. “Learning a new sport was a lot and in turn, that sport taught me so much about myself. It made me love the game even more.
“Appreciating the grind is one thing I learned,” he added. “And appreciating the opportunity you have and being thankful for everything you do in this facility because your time here is finite. I got hurt and from the sideline, you can see the opportunity you had and realize to not take that for granted.”
Head coach Doug Pederson said in his press conference Tuesday that this will be an important offseason for Mailata and other young members of the offensive line. The vital unit could undergo significant changes in the near future and Mailata is contending to be part of its longevity. He looks forward to a different season in 2019.
“Bloody hell, I hope it’s easier. I know I didn’t just struggle for this whole year for nothing,” Mailata said. “I feel more confident now. This is my first offseason so I’m trying to be careful and use my time and try to be efficient with it.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t get out on the field, but you can expect big things next year. I’m going to grind for it.”
Mailata had an ideal situation for a young offensive lineman seeking experience. He learned from two of the best tackles in the game in Lane Johnson and Jason Peters and worked with Pro Bowl interior linemen in center Jason Kelce and guard Brandon Brooks.
And against a ferocious defensive front, Mailata was tested each day in practice.
“I remember back in minicamp and how daunting it was to now, going a whole year of going against guys like (Brandon Graham) and Michael Bennett and Derek Barnett. They made me a better person each day,” Mailata said. “I’m grateful and I appreciate them so much for the opportunity.”
Mailata’s role for next season has not been clearly defined. Plenty of eyes will be upon him when he takes the practice field this spring and summer to preview an important sophomore season. Mailata knows the pressure is on and he is ready to answer the bell.
But will fans finally get to see him in a regular-season game next year?
“I bloody hope so,” Mailata said. “But, like I said, any way I can help the team, I’ll do it.”