Newest Eagles ‘Ball of Clay’ Starter Says Not Here ‘To Fill Anyone’s Boots’

Jordan Mailata

Getty Former Aussie rugby player Jordan Mailata is making the transition to left tackle in the NFL.

The early grades are in for Jordan Mailata, the Australian rugby player turned starting left tackle, and he’s at the head of his class.

Making his first NFL start, the Eagles’ seventh-round pick outplayed Lane Johnson under the bright lights of “Sunday Night Football.” Mailata’s 75.2 pass-blocking grade, per Pro Football Focus, was better than the All-Pro right tackle’s mark of 76.4. The 6-foot-8, 346-pounder earned kudos from his linemates and head coach after Philly’s 25-20 season-saving victory. He only allowed one quarterback hurry — no sacks or hits — while protecting Carson Wentz’s blindside and playing on 100-percent of the offensive snaps (62).

“First game starting, of course, I had a little bit of jitters,” Mailata said. “But once that first drive was over, they went away. I felt like I was home. It was great to get the W.”

His only real hiccup was a brutal false-start penalty on a 3rd-and-1 early in the second quarter that killed a drive. Other than that, the soft-spoken, big-bodied left tackle oozed confidence. When asked if there was any added pressure having to step in for a future Hall-of-Famer like Jason Peters, Mailata took the question literally. He’s not filling any “boots.”

“I’m not trying to fill anyone’s boots,” Mailata told reporters after the game. “I’m trying to make my own boots. That’s the one thing I am here [from Australia] to do. Try and put some respect on my name and tell people I’m not a rugby player anymore. I’m a footballer.”

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Pederson: ‘He’s Still Like a Ball of Clay’

Doug Pederson gave the text-book answer late Sunday night when he was asked to evaluate Mailata’s play. The Eagles head coach said the third-year man’s performance “wasn’t perfect” and pointed to him needing to clean up a “few gains on third down.”

Still, Pederson sees a bright future ahead for the 23-year-old who never played organized football prior to 2018. Mailata will see first-team reps again this week at left tackle with Peters out for at least three weeks and those practice snaps will be invaluable to his development.

“He’s still like a ball of clay that we are shaping and molding and making into a left tackle,” Pederson said. “He’s strong and when he is 100 percent accurate on what he’s doing on that particular play, it’s hard for defenders to get around him, whether it’s a pass block or a run block, when he’s right. So he’s still a work-in-progress.”

Mailata revealed that he was informed he would be the starter on Saturday morning when he arrived at the Eagles’ practice facility. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland pointed at him and said: “You’re up” and that was the whole conversation, according to Mailata. “I said, ‘Cool. Let’s do it.’”

Tra Thomas Impressed with Performance

Tra Thomas, a three-time Pro Bowle left tackle in Philly (and arguably the best bodyguard not named Jason Peters), agreed with Pederson’s assessment and broke down Mailata’s game tape on his informative “Trench Talk” show on YouTube. Thomas saw a few areas for improvement from the young Aussie but overall walked away impressed.

“I just went through the game again and felt Jordan Mailata played a hell of a game,” Thomas wrote on Twitter. “Of course there are some technique issues I think he needs to correct and will go over in my breakdown but all in all he played a hell of a game.”

Mailata should get even better the more comfortable he gets at the position, too.

“Just learning how to play, just learning how to take a big body and move it around differently than what he was used to,” Pederson said. “And, like I said, he’s come a long, long way in his development and his growth.”

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