Jordan Mailata has been here for a few weeks, and he wants you to know he is picking up the lingo.
“I have a long way to go, and that’s what [offensive line] coach [Jeff Stoutland] says, he just says, ‘Trust in the PROH-cess,’ because, he says, ‘You’re not going to learn it overnight,’ Mailata, the Samoan-Australian rugby player turned Eagles left tackle, said this week. “That’s what I’m doing, Trusting in the PROH-cess.”
Oh Jordan. Jordan, Jordan, Jordan.
There is a lot to learn, and we don’t doubt you’re doing your best, but: PRAH-cess, man. It’s pronounced PRAH-cess. That is what you must trust to fit in here in Philadelphia.
The Eagles drafted five players this year. The one getting the most-intense media attention is the guy least likely to play a significant on-field role in 2018.
Everyone around the team acknowledges this. Mailata acknowledges this. Yet, in drills, it is difficult to take your eyes off the youngest (he turned 21 March 31) and biggest (6-foot-8, 346 pounds) Eagle. Cameras and microphones seem magnetically drawn to Mailata, whose workout at the end of a three-month NFL crash course for international athletes led to the Birds’ trading up in the seventh round to draft him 233rd overall.
His size and athleticism dazzle, as does his smile, as he jokes that he has no idea what he is doing. Mailata has never played in an American-style football game and says he has only watched a few. He is still getting used to the weight and restricted vision of a football helmet.
But his story is going to be one of the spring and summer’s main pastimes for Eagles fans, and maybe for NFL fans in general. The NFL Network has already produced a 15-minute YouTube video, “Jordan Mailata’s Journey.” In it, after being congratulated by Eagles top executive Howie Roseman on being drafted, Mailata explains over the phone to his mother in Australia that “cameras are filming me crying!” A YouTube video of his rugby highlights has been viewed nearly a half-million times.
We’re far too early in the, ah, PROH-cess to say how much of this attention is warranted. On the one hand, the notion of trying to teach someone the game of football from the ground up in an NFL setting is absurd. On the other hand, well, 6-8, 346, really quick and nimble?
Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson stands in Mailata’s shadow at a mere 6-6, 317. Johnson came up with former Eagles defensive lineman Clif Geathers, who was listed at 6-8, but weighed in a good 20 pounds lighter than Mailata.
“He’s a big dude,” Johnson said. “It’s possible,” to go from zero to the NFL. “I think it’s all about your mindset. He definitely has every attribute you want. He’s big, he’s long, he’s physical. It’s really about once he knows what he’s doing and gets his confidence up, then he’ll be able to grow from there. He’s done some really impressive things [in drills], and then there’s some stuff — he doesn’t know the plays. The more he does it, the more reps he gets, the better he’s going to get.”
If Mailata shows he is catching on during training camp and the preseason, the Eagles might need to keep him on their 53-man roster to prevent him from being nabbed off the practice squad. If, at the end of preseason, he looks to be a long way from making an impact, he might safely spend a year learning on the practice squad. Or he might suffer an injury (wink, wink), though he couldn’t practice with the team while on injured reserve.
“It’s a challenge, there’s no doubt about that,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “Fortunately for him, he’s got a really good teacher in Jeff Stoutland, who has done [this] at the college level,” meaning, Stoutland has molded college players with little background in the sport.
“He’s got an uphill battle learning the system, he’s got an uphill battle learning the techniques, he’s got an uphill battle learning football in general,” Kelce said. “He’s got all the physical tools you need. Not only is he tall, he can bend well, he can move quickly, he’s got long arms. Now, it’s just trying to coordinate that all together, which is going to be a tough task, especially for this season.
“I’m trying to limit my optimistic expectations. It’s hard, when you see a guy that’s that gifted, to limit that, but it’s a little bit – I don’t know if unfair is the word, but it’s a little bit not right to expect too much out of him this year … . I think the team knows that. I think he knows that. Now it’s just trying to get him as much knowledge as quickly as we can, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Mailata joked, “Stout has been like the father figure nobody wants. Actually, I love that guy to death. He’s been so understanding. He recognizes where I’m at, at the moment, and where I need to get to.”
Mailata also gets a lot of help between practice reps from the other offensive linemen. He specifically mentioned Aaron Evans, an undrafted rookie from Central Florida, who typically lines up next to Mailata at left guard.
“Without the boys, I’d probably be dead,” Mailata said. “The pass-setting’s definitely the hardest, going from rugby. I used to be charging head-on. Now, I’m going backward, and for them to be charging at me is quite different.
“Run blocking’s gone OK. It’s kind of like rugby when you’re run-blocking … . But pass-setting is different. It’s unlike anything before that I’ve ever done. I think trusting in the boys and trying to get my technique down pat is what I’m going to aim at.”
For now, Mailata sets his sights on small victories.
“I’ve gotten used to the helmet, the gloves,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting when the pads go on.”