By: Al Thompson
Many people will tell you they like the NFL because every year there are so many battles to make the team and to earn playing time.
Each year, people complain about the preseason and its daily, sometimes boring grind to come up with the 53-man roster.
Despite those complaints, every year we are locked in on those struggles.
Here are three stories that surfaced after the first preseason game, a forgettable 27-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Lincoln Financial Field.
Marken Michel – Wide Receiver
Michel was in the NFL briefly after he signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent on May 6, 2016. He was waived on Aug. 30, 2016. Eight months later, Michel signed as a free agent with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
He was nominated as the CFL West Division Rookie of the Year in 2017 after recording 780 yards receiving and three touchdowns in just 13 games.
Michel played in 11 regular season games for the Stampeders in 2018, catching 31 passes for 435 yards with five touchdowns. On Oct. 12 of that year, Michel was placed on the six-game injured reserve with a broken scapula.
On Jan. 10, Michel signed with the Eagles. Until the preseason game against the Titans, the former UMass standout had been pretty much anonymous. That all changed last Thursday.
With 11:24 left in the first half, Michel hauled in a pass from Nate Sudfeld about 30 yards down field and, avoiding a diving veteran defensive back Adoree’ Jackson, raced to the end zone for a 75-yard score that would be the Eagles’ only touchdown of the night.
“I didn’t see the DB,” Michel said at his locker after the game. “All I saw was the ball. As I was running, in my head, I thought had him beat by like five yards. When I saw the replay, I saw that he was right there. I wasn’t paying any attention to him. I was just running, I didn’t care who was around me. It was just me and the ball.”
Michel was asked if it meant anything to him that Jackson is an accomplished defensive back.
“He’s just another opponent,” Michel said, shaking his head. “Whoever steps in front me, you’re trying to stop me from being successful. So I have to do everything in my power to make sure I’m successful. He was just somebody else to me.”
Michel was asked if the touchdown was his training camp “moment.”
“It was definitely a big moment,” Michel said. “I feel blessed. I feel God has taken me through a lot, brought me through a lot. He prepared me for this moment.”
Andre Dillard – Offensive Tackle
The Eagles’ 2019 first-round draft pick out of Washington State finally got to show his skills and prove that the Eagles were wise moving up two spots to pick him at No. 19 overall.
Most of the reviews came in thumbs up for the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder. Dillard said after the preseason game against the Titans that he was playing and not thinking about it.
“It’s awesome to get out there and get the monkey off my shoulder,” Dillard said at his locker after the Titans game. “And get my first game experience. It was a lot of fun.”
Dillard was asked how he thought he played.
“I think I played pretty good, pretty decent for my first time out there playing a game in the NFL,” he said. “I think I did pretty well. There are a couple things I wish I did a little better. That happens.”
Did he find he was playing more in an instinctive place mentally than he was when he first arrived at camp?
“I probably made the biggest jump as a football player, between the end of college and now,” Dillard said. “Things are just starting to come together for me a little bit. I’m not nearly where I want to be, not anywhere close. Each day, I try to stack the days.”
Jordan Mailata – Offensive Tackle
Mailata was drafted in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL draft. The 6-8, 346-pound Australian was discovered by NFL scouts while playing rugby for the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Mailata had not played a down of American football before being drafted by the Eagles.
He is a project the Eagles knew would take time to develop. But the athletic talent is there.
Mailata made the 53-man roster last year mainly because he would not have lasted a day on the Birds’ practice squad.
The Eagles played him virtually the entire game against Tennessee. The reviews were mostly positive.
“It slowed down a lot for me,” Mailata said after the game. “It’s kind of great that I got all the reps that I did. It definitely felt good from the first play. I remember last year, the first play was like watching Formula 1 (auto racing). Now it’s slowed down.”
Mailata was asked about his footwork and how it has improved and where he has to go with it.
“I just have to work on taking the correct angles,” Mailata said. “That’s about it. Taking the correct angles and just getting those reps, that’s all it is.”
Does Mailata think he is becoming more instinctive on the field?
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “I feel like it’s slowed down for me dramatically. I’m able to pick up (blitzes) and stuff. The more game experience I have, the more game-ready I’ll be for whatever they run at us.”
Former NFL offensive lineman and NFL Network on-air talent Brian Baldinger posted some of Mailata’s snaps on his “Film Session” Twitter feed and had this to say about the raw lineman.
“Mailata played 53/57 snaps last night and he was the Birds’ best offensive player. Period!” Baldinger said. “Not going crazy but if your are Howie & DougP I wanna see more. Give him every snap next week. It’s unreal what Coach Stout (Jeff Stoutland) is doing with this rugby star.”
We will see if these three potential stars live up to the early hype. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii.