Eagles depth at OT could mean position change for Mailata, Vaitai
The Eagles open a three-day rookie camp on Friday, and there will be all sorts of players to watch, including undrafted free agents signed by the team when the 2019 NFL draft ended on April 27.
Undrafted free agent names are out there, but nothing is official, so I will wait and see who comes and who doesn’t.
The Penn State duo of running back Miles Sanders, drafted in the second round, and fourth-rounder Shareef Miller, should be on hand, as will quarterback Clayton Thorson (fifth round) and receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (second round).
Perhaps there is no bigger name, though, than Andre Dillard, the team’s top pick. Selecting him with the 22nd overall pick, after trading up three spots to get him, called into question the Eagles’ feelings about the development of Australian rugby project Jordan Mailata and even top tackle reserve Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
Dillard will probably take over at left tackle when future Hall of Famer Jason Peters rides into the sunset of retirement, likely at the end of this season. Dillard could still see some playing time this fall should the 37-year-old Peters struggle again with injuries the way he has the past two seasons.
As for Mailata, the team was high on his progress last year when they drafted him in the seventh round right off the rugby fields of Australia, where he was a star. Mailata was on the 53-man roster but was placed on Injured Reserve with three games to go due to a back issue. He was active for just three games, but did not play.
I don’t think the Eagles have soured on Mailata, but he can no longer be considered the heir to Peters’ job. Perhaps, as he continues to grow in his comfort level with his new sport, the team will even give him reps at guard.
The Eagles could use some guard depth, and may even need someone to start the season at right guard depending on whether or not Brandon Brooks is ready to start the season as he continues to rehab from a torn Achilles suffered in the playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints on Jan. 13.Brooks’ rehab seems to be progressing well. He tweeted out Monday: “Had a special moment today. Was on the treadmill and had my last sprint at 14 mph and had the weight room full of teammates cheer me on…”
Still, if he cannot answer the bell on Sept. 8 for the season opener against the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field, someone will have to play that spot. Right now, it looks like Matt Pryor could be that player. Entering his second year, Pryor was on the roster but was only active for one game, and it was game he did not get into.
Moving the more seasoned Vaitai to guard could be in the Eagles’ plans, especially with their tackle depth growing after the addition of Dillard. Vaitai played well when he had to step in for Peters in 2017 once Peters’ season ended halfway through it with torn knee ligaments and Big V started throughout the playoffs and in Super Bowl LII.
But Vaitai’s production dipped last season, and maybe he is asked to try guard. The Eagles love versatile linemen and that would enhance Big V’s chances of sticking around the NFL, even if it isn’t with the Eagles.
Should an undrafted lineman rise up and shine, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman could even look to ship Vaitai elsewhere this summer.
There is all sorts of sorting out to be done up front, and it begins on Friday.