PHILADELPHIA — The first pass play of Jordan Mailata‘s NFL career went about as poorly as you might expect. Working at left tackle to open the second half in the Philadelphia Eagles‘ preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night, he was beaten by linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, who got a clean shot on quarterback Joe Callahan and forced a fumble, which Pittsburgh recovered.
Mailata, the massive former Australian Rugby League star, had never played a snap of organized football before suiting up against the Steelers on Thursday. He had only been training for the sport for a couple months when the Eagles traded up for him in the seventh round of April’s NFL Draft, and has been fighting against time ever since to get up to speed for this moment. So yes, there was some anxiety when he took the field in front of a sizable Philly crowd.
“Everyone was telling me, ‘Just breathe.’ It was hard to breathe, especially with the pads on,” Mailata said with a laugh. “I guess after that first snap and getting the nerves out of the way, I really set my mind and tried to focus on the next play. That’s all I could do.”
Encouragingly enough, Mailata stabilized after the rough opening. He showed off a kick-step that he’s borrowed from right tackle Lane Johnson (one that he’s worked on so much that he walks around with a silver-dollar sized blister on the ball of his left foot), was able to effectively use the punching technique that he’s been practicing, and got to steamroll a defender or two out in space in the run game — reminiscent of his time with the South Sydney Rabbitohs. He played the entire second half and while a little rough around the edges, acquitted himself well, all considering.
He also showed some savvy by getting out of his stance when his opponent jumped into the neutral zone to draw a flag on Pittsburgh.
“[Offensive line] Coach [Jeff Stoutland] at training says, ‘If a guy jumps, you go, Ooga booga booga!’ That’s what he calls it, ‘Ooga booga booga!’ As soon as I saw him jump, I was like ‘Ooga booga booga!’ In Stout we trust,” he said.
Besides Stoutland, Mailata had the support of the veteran players. Immediately after his miscue on his opening series, tackles Jason Peters and Halapoulivaati Vaitai went over to him on the sideline to stress the importance of turning the page and having a “next-play mentality.”
“It was really nice having that support, especially after that first play,” he said. “I own my mistake and I know I’ll learn from it.
“I think going into next week’s game against the Patriots, I’ll feel a bit more comfortable. Obviously had some jelly legs out there on my first snap. I think now that I’ve got the first game out of the way, the only way you can go is up now.”