PHILADELPHIA – As far as competitions go, the one to be the Eagles’ starting left tackle didn’t last much longer than a best-of-three set in a game of rock-paper-scissors.
Jordan Mailata had it locked down early, based on just the first week or so of training camp when it was clear his reps were better than those of Andre Dillard, even as the two took turns daily running with the first team.
Then Dillard hurt his knee, and that was that.
“Jordan did a good job of winning that position, but then again, I don't want to short Andre here at all,” said head coach Nick Sirianni. “When he was in, he played really well, and he played a phenomenal last preseason game, and I thought that was the case also in the Jets practices, as well.
“(But) you don't just say, ‘Hey, here's one game, here's a splash game and we're just doing everything based off of that.’ The whole body of work is at play, and I'm just sure glad that we got both those guys on this roster.”
So, Mailata will line up with left guard Isaac Seumalo, center Jason Kelce, right guard Brandon Brooks, and tight tackle Lane Johnson when the Eagles open the season in Atlanta on Sept. 12.
With Dillard missing valuable time, Mailata was able to build chemistry with the other starters on the line, which was something Sirianni alluded to before adding, “we have two left tackles that can really play and can start in my opinion all across the NFL.”
Now comes the really hard part - filling the shoes left behind by Jason Peters.
Mailata is 6-8, 380, but his shoe size is unknown. Presumably, they are large, large enough, however, to make Eagles fans forget Peters in his prime?
Peters was on a slow decline the past few seasons, but he was one of the best in the business for much of his time in Philadelphia, where he built a Hall of Fame resume.
He was the Eagles starter at left tackle dating back to 2009, with the exception of 2012 when he missed the season with an Achilles injury, playing in seven Pro Bowls during that time with two first-team All-Pro nods. At age 39, has joined the Chicago Bears.
“When it came to the starting position, I honestly had no idea how this was going to play out,” Mailata said following Thursday’s practice. “The only thing I knew for sure was that whether it would be me or Andre, I was going to prepare myself like a starter. That was the one biggest thing that I saw last year that I needed to work on – how to prepare as a starter and train as a starter and live that way of life.
“For me, my focus was never on who was going to be the starter, but rather the process of being the starter, how to be a starter. And not who was going to be it.”
The process of becoming an NFL starter was a rapid one for Mailata, who the Eagles took a flyer on in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
The story has been well told, of having never before played football until he arrived for rookie camp in Philadelphia. He was an Australian rugby star who had never put on a helmet, never strapped on a pair of shoulder pads, and they were two tasks he initially struggled with in the early days of his new job.
Now, he looks like a natural.
Dillard was the one with the football pedigree, a first-round draft pick in 2019 who arrived from having played in Mike Leach’s Air-Raid offense at Washington State.
Mailata eventually took to the coaching of offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, though he talked in the past about how hard Stoutland coached him.
“Coach Stoutland has played a big part in my life and my development as a player and a person,” he said. “He’s helped me achieve a lot of things and made me the player I am today. He’s taught me a lot about work ethic.
“I look back at my rookie year and it was kind of nice to have that encouragement. Every day he was pushing me to be better and wanted the best for me. It’s something I’ve adapted to my everyday life, and everything he was saying to me as a rookie, finally in my fourth year, I can understand what he means.”
Mailata said he has not yet reflected on just how far he has come insisting that he is only preparing to start Week 1 against the Falcons.
He has been around long enough to know that nothing is guaranteed, so being the starter now doesn’t mean that, if he doesn’t play well, he won’t be replaced by Dillard.
“Andre is a hell of an athlete and a player,” Mailata said. “And so you know we’ll keep sharpening each other and pushing each other every day. We still train hard. I know when he hits the bag sometimes a little bit harder, so now when you hold the bag, I’m going to hit you a little bit harder. That’s just another way of how iron sharpens iron.”
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 or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.