Pads on, full-speed practice. On Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex, Eagles Training Camp 2019 took a new turn, introducing a "live" (tackling!) element to the equation and the team went through a two-hour, 20-minute practice that was, in a word, spirited. Oh, and a second word: Intense.
So, it was notable that after a high-octane session, rookie left tackle Andre Dillard walked off the field and smiled. A genuine one, mind you. One that said, during the course of a conversation, "I've made some progress and I feel good about it."
That's the way it goes for Dillard and, truly, for every player at this stage of the season. Players have a common thought process and a quote that goes something like this (if you really take notice of some interviews), "I'm just trying to stack days. One good day after another …"
Dillard had a good day on Tuesday. He wasn't perfect by any means, and he knows that he's got a long way to go before he gets to where he wants to be, which is basically a clone of what Jason Peters has been for the last decade-plus in Philadelphia, but Dillard measures his progress incrementally.
"I think I did pretty well," Dillard said, after first saying "thank you" when I noted that he looked good throughout the morning on the field. "I'm getting acclimated more and more every day with the way the organization runs things in every aspect. I'm having a lot more fun. Everything is slowing down. It was pretty fast at first. I'm not gonna lie. I can honestly say that every day it improves."
Dillard, the first-round draft pick the Eagles traded up to nab with the 22nd overall selection, was a standout left tackle at Washington State. His athleticism allowed Dillard to dominate the Pac-12 Conference and anyone the Cougars played, but that isn't what rules the day in the NFL. Everyone has an answer for athletic ability. Technique takes over. Mental discipline wins. Toughness is essential.
For Dillard, the NFL is a whole new ballgame and he's smart enough to know it. He has a skill set that line coach Jeff Stoutland loved from the jump and he has proven to learn things quickly. In a very short time, Dillard has made noticeable progress. The welcome-to-the-NFL moment happened right away in the spring, in the very first practice Dillard said, when defensive end Joe Ostman left Dillard in the dust with an inside spin move, and Dillard has been moving on up from there.
"The transition from college to the NFL is much more difficult than the one from high school to college," Dillard said. "You don't realize that until you're here. You can get away with things in college that you can't get away with in the NFL. These guys have an answer for just about everything you bring, so you have to learn more than you've ever learned, and you have to be sound in everything you do. You have to be technically sound in every single practice, or those guys are going to get you, and it's not pretty."
The Eagles knew when they drafted him that Dillard would have a transition period. They didn't use a first-round pick on Dillard to start him on September 8 against Washington. They drafted Dillard because he showed them extraordinary athletic ability – a dancer's feet – and they figured that working Dillard in with the likes of future Hall of Famer Jason Peters would help Dillard get up to speed. That's the way it's working. The two are spending time together on and off the field as Dillard picks Peters' mind about the nuances of the system, of Stoutland, and of playing in the NFL.
"Everything he says to me, I value it because I know what he's seen and what he's accomplished is far greater than I can comprehend at this point in my career," Dillard said. "I'm enjoying every part of it."
Fellow offensive tackle Lane Johnson had high praise for Dillard on Tuesday, saying, "I see a big, athletic man. I think he'll be as good as he wants to be. He does remind me of me a little bit as far a foot quickness and speed and everything. He's a good worker. He's picking up on things pretty fast. He's progressed a lot, so I think he could go play right now if he needed to."
At the moment, he's not needed to play. Dillard can make progress at his own pace. One day after another. Stack up the good ones. You know the way players think.
"I know there are going to be ups and downs and I have to accept that," Dillard said. "The goal is to have a lot more ups than downs. I like where I am building my strength and conditioning and learning how it's done here. I had a pretty good day out there today. My goal is to be better tomorrow."