PHILADELPHIA - In four short years, Jordan Mailata has gone from needing help with figuring out his helmet to being on the precipice of becoming the starting left tackle for one of the most accomplished offensive lines in the NFL.
Mailata has gone from reminiscing about his time with the South Sydney Rabbitohs to being a peer of Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, and Brandon Brooks for a team with 3.4 million Twitter followers, 99.7 percent of whom are head over heels for the 6-foot-8, 350-pound Aussie who can belt out a tune like an oversized Sinatra and beat down opponents like he's Andre the Giant.
Through it all, however, Mailata remains incredibly grounded thanks in large part to his football "dad," Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
"It may seem like I’ve done an awful lot but I haven’t done zip and that’s the truth," Mailata smiled. "Thank God that I have Stout as a coach because he reminds me every day that I haven’t done anything yet. I think that’s a great way to approach everything and that’s why my mentality is set on still getting better every day."
When there was a report that Stoutland was considering returning to the University of Alabama to join Nick Saban's staff, Mailata just about hit the floor.
"I almost had a heart attack when those rumors came out," he said. "I gave coach Stoutland a call as soon as that article came out and he reassured us he was coming back. When it was official and in the paper, I was very relieved. He’s like my dad."
Forced into action at both left and right tackle due to injuries in 2020, Mailata ended up starting 10 games and playing 65 percent of the offensive snaps.
The big man was still raw but his natural size, strength, and athleticism are so impressive that former O-Linemen like Barrett Brooks, Ross Tucker, and Brian Baldinger have pegged Mailata as the Eagles' starting LT in 2021 over former first-round pick Andre Dillard, who missed all of last season with a torn biceps.
"I am proud of my achievements last year in what I had set out but that was not the ceiling," Mailata said. "The goal was to get better every day, to try to improve. I gave up seven sacks and this year try not to give up any sacks, that’s my goal. Every year I’m trying to push my limits, push my ceiling, and don’t get comfortable."
During OTAs, Mailata and Dillard have alternated days with a first-team offensive line that includes four constants from left guard over - Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson.
The only question for Stoutalnd is picking between the gifted Dillard and Mailata, who has sped from project to prospect by getting thrown into the deep end of the pool and finding a more than respectable swimming stroke.
In fact, for that first time, Mailata will ender training camp in late July as a virtual certainty for the roster.
Despite the uptick in perception, however, nothing has changed for the former seventh-round pick who will be entering the final year of his rookie deal with the opportunity to make a whole lot of money.
Despite his elevated status at the NovaCare Complex Mailata insisted it's "not different and it’s never changed."
"I think every year it’s always been a competition," he told SI.com's Eagle Maven. "That’s how I viewed it. There’s always competition every year and I think coach [Nick Sirianni] coming in and saying that for all position groups is a no-brainer.
"I still have to earn my place. Like I said when I finished off last year, the last press conference, I’m still trying to prove to myself that I am a dominant left tackle in this league and not a rugby player anymore but in order for me to do that I have to keep progressing and challenging myself every day."
That mindset has served Mailata well.
"Every year we come back and that’s how I present it, no matter how much of a good year that I’ve had or a bad year, I always come back to try to improve and challenge myself in that way," Mailata insisted.
Mailata's main competition, Dillard, as showed up a much more focused and confident player.
"I’m back even stronger, I’m all cleared to go, 100 percent, feel good as new," Dillard assured reporters. "I’m a lot stronger than before I got hurt, I’ll tell you that."
In a counterintuitive way, Mailata's versatility could hurt him and pigeonhole the Sydney native as the swing tackle and the sixth man for one of the NFL's best O-Lines.
Even that doesn't phase Mailata, making him an almost perfect football "son" for Stoutland.
"There’s no worry. If that’s what happens, if I step on that field, that’s a blessing of its own," Mailata insisted. "It’s what I can do for this team that matters and I’m trying to win a championship. If me being that sixth man and playing left [tackle], right, whatever it is and we get there, I’ll do it.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.