From Jordan Mailata to DeVonta Smith, how do Eagles players … – The Philadelphia Inquirer

Among roughly a dozen players polled on the process of staying within a specific weight range, the consensus is weight management comes easier to some players than others.
Jordan Davis’ New Year’s resolutions have little to do with numbers on the scale.
The Eagles rookie defensive tackle’s size has been closely monitored since he declared for the NFL draft about a year ago, but his goal for 2023 is focused on something more tangible than a number looking back at him.
“I want some abs,” Davis said. “When I get abs, I’ll know I hit my goal.”
Davis’ quest for a defined midsection is well on its way. The 22-year-old surprised even some of his teammates earlier this season when he came off injured reserve almost 20 pounds lighter despite being held out of practices and games for four weeks.
» READ MORE: Eagles legends Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are savoring what could be their final days together
Davis’ process of dropping such a significant amount of weight in such a short period of time required additional cardio, strict dieting, and a string of conversations with the team’s nutrition staff. At the start of each new season, a collection of Eagles staffers determine a weight range for each player to stay within. Deviating from that range often requires backing from multiple people, including director of nutrition Mike Minnis.
“We all work together to make sure we’re setting ideal weight ranges for guys,” Minnis told The Inquirer. “That’s where it starts. We look at a bunch of different things from wingspan to hand size, wrist size, knee size, all these anthropometric measurements so we can nail down a really good range for everybody specific to them, their position, and their goals.”
Among roughly a dozen players polled by The Inquirer on the process of staying within that range, the consensus is it comes easier to some players than others. The weigh-ins, which happen on Thursday mornings, sometimes lead to players hastily trying to cut weight before climbing on the scale for judgment.
“It comes down to body types,” tackle Lane Johnson said. “Some guys can [bleeping] gain weight really quick, some guys have a hard time putting on weight. … Some guys are here a little later on Wednesdays or early on Thursdays.”
As Eagles players funnel back inside after practice, a bar filled with smoothies, supplements, and a daily riddle awaits them just before walking through the double doors of the locker room.
The smoothies vary in just about every way. Some are purple, some green, some brown. Some have large flecks while others appear to have a finer consistency. Some are bigger than others, and some are snatched off the bar well before reporters are permitted to walk past for the media availability.
The cups are grouped under signs denoting the separate position groups and each has a label attached with a player’s name. Some of them have smaller cups containing supplements balanced on top, while others are unencumbered.
The drinks are a holdover from a decade ago and evoke memories of Chip Kelly’s obsession with sports science. The Eagles coach back in 2013 brought the smoothies to the organization, and they’ve stuck.
“The guys love it,” Minnis said. “Everybody loves something that’s individualized to them. Everybody has different goals, too. You could have a smoothie for a weight-gain guy that could have 1,000 calories. Or you could have a smoothie for a guy that’s a weight-loss guy or a weight-management maybe, that could be 400 calories.”
The smoothies are Minnis’ rare chance to get players the nutrition he hopes they seek when left to their own devices. The Eagles have two registered dietitians on staff, Minnis and associate performance nutrition coordinator Stephanie Coppola, who field requests from players to determine the contents of their drinks.
“I think it’s just important for those guys to feel like they’re getting things individualized to them and their specific needs,” Minnis added. “And it’s a great opportunity to get nutrition in and calories in. Because if all else fails, if maybe they don’t eat, necessarily the right things or something like that, at least they have really high-quality nutrition in post-training, which is one of the most important times to get carbohydrates and proteins.”
Aside from the post-practice fuel, Minnis’ influence on each player’s diet varies based on the player. His goal for the cafeteria food is to cater to everyone, which spans from 170-pound DeVonta Smith to 365-pound Jordan Mailata. He keeps a list of meal prep services and personal chefs from all over the country for players with less-than-stellar cooking skills, especially in the offseason when they leave the area.
“We hope we’re teaching these guys to choose the right things for them,” Minnis said.
Mailata has big dreams for his post-retirement physique.
The 6-foot-8 Eagles left tackle has fluctuated in a nearly 60-pound range north of 340 during his playing career, but he wants to spend his life after football getting into cross-fit and lowering his body-fat percentage.
“I just want to have a bangin’ body,” Mailata said. “Just [bleeping] shredded, but still mobile.”
Mailata has tried playing at a relatively wide spectrum of weights since leaving Australia and picking up football as a 345-pound rugby convert in 2018. He remembers the urgency he felt when he weighed in at 400 pounds early in his career, and the helplessness he felt getting moved around by defensive linemen after dropping down to 360.
Playing at 360, combined with the lack of knowledge about blocking with proper leverage and fundamentals, led to Mailata hurting his back in 2019 and eventually putting on some extra weight to compensate.
Mailata eventually settled in around 370 and still tries to weigh exactly that before each game this year.
This summer, Mailata’s goal to drop down to 350 is with one eye on getting quicker on the field and one eye on looking svelte for the wedding he and his fiancee, Nikki, are planning in Napa Valley this year.
“It’s not about fitting in the suit, but I want to look good in the suit,” Mailata said. “That’s probably the No. 1 reason I want to drop weight, because I want to lose weight for the wedding, but I also want to see how it moves. See how it plays.”
» READ MORE: It’s Tom Brady vs. the Dallas Cowboys, and Eagles fans wonder: Can’t they both lose?
Considering his experience the last time he dropped down to the 350s, Mailata said the prospect of playing a bit lighter is more palatable after spending the last few years getting game experience, having better mobility and a deeper understanding of how to maximize his frame on blocks.
Watching Johnson’s movement ability while still being able to anchor against power rushers is Mailata’s inspiration.
“I know what the [bleep] I’m doing now,” he said. “I want to see how I am, because I’m OK now but I want to be better. I want to try and be as fast as possible. If I’m weighing lighter, I’ll move faster, change direction faster and emulate Lane. He’s a [bleeping] freak.”
For players like Mailata, Minnis said there’s typically a conversation about their preferred weight that starts as early as their predraft or free-agency visits and continues throughout their careers. If a player approaches Minnis about feeling the need to gain or lose weight beyond their predetermined range, there’s typically room for their preferences.
“We’re always asking them, ‘What do you feel good at?’ or ‘What do you feel like you play your best at,’” Minnis said. “Usually it lines up. It’s not very often where we’re very separate. At the end of the day, their input matters a ton. It doesn’t mean that just because they want to play somewhere that it’s the best from a performance standpoint, but their input matters.”
Mailata’s weight management consists of two big meals each day with a shake and a possible snack before practice for a boost of energy. He usually skips breakfast and follows it up with a meal around noon. His last meal is around 7 p.m.
On Friday, he makes time for breakfast because his tight schedule leads to him skipping lunch and having a late dinner. Those Friday night dinners can venture into “cheat meal” territory, he says, but otherwise his portions are big enough to keep him full, but not stuffed.
“Everyone is like, ‘Oh, if you don’t eat, you’ll burn more calories,’” Mailata said. “It’s the exact opposite. You need to fuel your body. So I just try to know my portion sizes. By now, I’ve got it down pat. It’s one steak, a scoop of potatoes and some veggies.”
When the Eagles drafted Davis last April, his size was both one of his biggest assets and one of his few causes for concern.
The former Georgia standout measured in at 6-6, 341 at the NFL scouting combine and ran a 4.78 40-yard dash that didn’t seem possible for someone that size. His towering frame and athleticism made him an appealing prospect, but worries about his conditioning at that size lingered.
The Eagles wanted Davis — who plays heavier than the 341 he dropped to for the combine — to slim down and improve his conditioning. Davis has done just that, starting the season around 355, but dropping back closer to 340 while he was on IR. Going into the playoffs, Davis is hovering around 345.
“It’s hard as [bleep], I can tell you that first off,” Davis said of losing weight. “It makes you very conscious of what you eat and what you drink. Most of your calories are in the things that you drink, that’s what I found out. Cutting out sodas, cutting out the juices, stuff like that. Even having a Gatorade affects you.”
What other dieting tips does Davis have to offer?
“It’s not about what you eat, it’s about how much you eat,” he said. “That’s something I’m starting to find out and realize. Drink a lot of water before you eat, too. That way you get the sensation of being full without actually eating a lot.
“There’s not an end-all, be-all. There’s not a secret sauce that can help everybody, it’s just whatever your body needs.”
Davis said he ate “whenever he could” while he was at Georgia but is down to two meals a day with the Eagles, once when he arrives at the facility and once when he leaves.
Davis isn’t the only young defensive tackle still learning best practices for keeping the numbers on the scale steady.
» READ MORE: Jordan Davis has become an afterthought and it hasn’t mattered. Where does the Eagles rookie’s future stand?
Second-year lineman Milton Williams was in the sixth percentile for weight when the Eagles took him in the third round of the 2021 draft, but he’s steadily added size the last two seasons. After weighing in at 284 at the scouting combine, Williams said he’s at 296 this year.
For Williams, it’s easy to put on some extra weight when he’s eating in the Eagles’ cafeteria.
“I’ll definitely be heavier at the end of the season,” Williams said. “I’m working out and eating in that cafeteria in there. Eating good food. They got anything you can think of: shrimp, steak, lobster tails, macaroni and cheese, oxtails, hot wings, pizza. They’re getting us right back there.”
A handful of players polled, like Williams, have spent their careers focused more on going up rather than dropping pounds. Johnson struggled to keep weight on early in his career after spending most of his time in college playing tight end and quarterback.
He was 303 when he was drafted in 2011 and has steadily put on weight over his career. Johnson was suspended twice for violating the performance-enhancing substances policy early in his career and has responded by becoming one of the team’s most well-versed players on nutrition to avoid future missteps.
Keeping weight on has been simpler for Johnson, 32, now that his metabolism has slowed some.
“It’s gotten easier as I’ve gotten older,” he said. “When I first got in the league, I was probably 305 my rookie year and then my goal was to get to 315. I was around 310 for probably four or five years. Then the back half of my career, it was really easier to put on weight. Now I’m like 330.”
» READ MORE: ‘The best tackle there is’: Eagles’ Lane Johnson earns a 4th Pro Bowl nod and sets the standard at the position
Haason Reddick went into training camp at 255, the heaviest he’d been in his career. For guys trying to stay at a number, training camp can be the hardest part of the year to maintain because of the extended workouts in the heat. The edge rusher knew he’d drop some of it during training camp, and said he’s been steady around 245 all season, 5 pounds heavier than where he’s listed.
“For people who are worried about weight management, I feel like that’s where the most weight is lost,” Reddick said. “During camp, practicing is different, the days are different, they’re much longer.”
Reddick, who was named to the All-Pro second team on Friday, had a career year after signing a three-year, $45 million contract over the offseason. Reddick said playing at 245 has been part of his 16-sack season, among other things.
“I’ve been loving it,” Reddick said. “I’ll probably play out the rest of my career at this weight. … I feel like I’m stout as ever.”
When asked about his weight-management regimen, Smith cracks a smile.
Like Davis, the wiry receiver’s weight was often a topic of conversation during his predraft process, but for the exact opposite reason.
“Ain’t no weight management,” Smith said. “It is what it is.”
The 6-foot Smith was listed at 170 going into the regular season. The only player on the Eagles roster lighter than Smith is 5-9 kicker Jake Elliott (167).
With a 95-catch regular season behind him, Smith has answered most of the concerns about his frame holding up in the NFL and doesn’t spend much time fretting about his weight as a result.
“I’m going to lose weight regardless,” Smith said. “Whether I’m paying attention to it or not, I’m going to lose weight.
“I’ve lost a lot of weight [this season],” he added.
Smith spends the offseason training hard, lifting weights, and focusing on improving his strength. The scale might not reflect it always, but Smith has made strides with his strength at the catch point if nothing else. He had 11 contested catches and caught 42% of his contested targets in 2022, which is middle-of-the-road for high-target receivers and in line with wideouts like Davante Adams and Ja’Marr Chase, according to Pro Football Focus.
“It’s not so much even gaining weight,” Smith said of his offseason goals. “It’s really just getting stronger. That’s all it is, there’s not a certain weight I’m trying to get to. I’m just trying to stay strong and stay in the best condition I can.”
» READ MORE: ‘Time to level up’: Inside DeVonta Smith’s 5 a.m. workouts
Count Jason Kelce among those in Smith’s camp, even though the 6-3, 295-pound center has been considered undersized for his position since switching from tight end in college.
“I’m probably not the one to talk to because I put like zero emphasis on weight management,” he said. “I just eat food. It’s not that hard. You eat a lot of food? You don’t lose weight. You eat too much food? You gain weight.”
Regardless of player approach, Minnis said the message the nutrition staff harps on is “energy balance.” It serves an oversimplification to a complex equation, the foundational piece to what Minnis has been studying for more than a decade.
For the laymen: Burn more calories than you eat. For an NFL nutrition director, it’s the goal that encompasses every detail of the day.
“That’s our No. 1 principle,” Minnis said. “It’s calories in and calories out, energy in and energy out. That’s all we’re trying to do all the time. With the resources and food availability, it’s meal schedules around training and practice, when we eat breakfast, when we do lunch, what’s dinner, what are we doing on the airplane, what are we doing on the road at hotels, what are we doing in the stadiums at the games? It’s this constant, like, ‘Can we make nutrition available to these guys so that they can maintain their weight?’ That’s the biggest thing is just availability of resources for them all year, all season long.”

source

Leave a Comment