Andre Dillard is on the practice field at the NovaCare Complex, lined up at left offensive tackle, repeating the instructions from offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland. Left foot, right foot, hands in the proper position.
And then breathe, sweat, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
This is the ritual dance of an NFL left tackle, and Dillard not only has to be good at it, but he’s got to be just about perfect with every kick step, with every set, and in his get-off in the run game. So, what is happening with Dillard right now, in his first weekend on the field as an Eagle after the team made him their first-round selection in the NFL Draft is very much in the rudimentary stage.
It is oh, so important. Doing things right, perfectly as he develops the right habits as Stoutland demands things to be done, is the goal for Dillard on a daily basis.
“I am going to study what I’m doing, look at myself and if I see something I don’t like, I’m going to ask questions and I know that Coach Stout will have answers,” Dillard said. “I understand that I’m here to learn and grow into the best I can be. I’m pleased with how I’m picking up the offense, the terminology, and the technique. I also know that I’ve got a long, long way to go before I am where I want to be.”
The plan at left tackle in 2019 is for Jason Peters, in his 16th season and at the age of 37, to return as the starter. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the starter in Super Bowl LII, is a strong No. 2. Second-year man Jordan Mailata continues his development. Dillard is not going to have a redshirt rookie season. Stoutland is going to ride Dillard, get him up to speed as quickly as possible, get him ready in case the Eagles need him.
The Eagles have depth at the position, and let’s be honest here, left tackle has been a blessed position for decades. After swinging and missing a lot in the way-back first rounds with selections of Kevin Allen (1985), Antone Davis (1991), and Bernard Williams (1994), the Eagles struck gold in 1998 by taking Florida State left tackle Tra Thomas.
Since that time, left tackle has been in great hands and feet with Thomas through 2008 and then by Peters, whom the Eagles acquired in a trade with Buffalo in 2009. Peters (seven) and Thomas (three) have combined to make 10 Pro Bowls and there isn’t a team in the league that has had a more stable situation at one of the game’s most difficult positions to fill.
When the Eagles had the opportunity to address the position in late April, as Dillard stayed on the board through pick 15 and then 17 and then 20, the Eagles seized the moment and moved from 25 to 22 to take Dillard. If it all works out, left tackle is going to be a position of strength for another decade to come.
That’s why these on-field and in-the-classroom moments are so vital early in Dillard’s career.
“You have to do everything right and be very precise,” Dillard said. “That’s kind of the nature of the position, and that’s what I love about it. You have to win the one-on-one battles and you have to be in sync with the rest of your line. It comes down to technique and desire and playing the position the right way.
“I’m learning all of that. Learning the offense. Learning about Coach Stout and how he does things and what he demands from his players. I’m excited to be here. I am encouraged with the start that I’ve had.
“But I know it’s only a start. I have a lot of work ahead.”
The dancing continues. Left foot, right foot, hands in the right position. Stay balanced. Stay on the balls of your feet. Bend at the knees. Use your body length and your arm length. Dillard is the young performer the Eagles hope to turn into a standout to protect quarterback Carson Wentz’s blindside for the next 10 years.
The Development of Andre Dillard, first-round pick, takes another baby step forward.
“This is the next step. It feels great to be here. I think we’re all picking up the offense pretty well in the offensive line room. Stout is an amazing teacher,” Dillard said. “We’re all going to have our little hiccups here and there, but we’re getting it. We’re getting it done and it’s a lot of fun.”
Get an inside look at the first Rookie Minicamp Practice from the Novacare Complex.