Doug Pederson last week gave left tackle Andre Dillard the strongest vote of confidence we’ve heard from the Eagles thus far this offseason, saying he has “a ton of confidence” in Dillard’s ability to hold down the left tackle position.
The day after that vote of confidence, Pederson was on WIP and was asked if Dillard is mentally tough enough to take control of that spot. That’s when he brought up an interesting name.
I have no doubts about that. Listen, I was with Kansas City when we drafted Eric Fisher. He was the first overall pick that year. It comes with the territory. People are looking at you and people want to see what type of player you are. And anytime you give up a sack or you miss your run block, you’re going to be crucified, that’s just the nature of the business.
“You go back and look at last season and the four games [Dillard] played and the preseason. He’s got tremendous upside. He’s got a great skillset. He’s working on his strength, getting stronger this offseason, even through virtual workouts. But he is doing that, getting reports on him on a daily basis. I have no doubt that he can step in Day 1, fill in, he’s smart enough, very talented, obviously, to assume that role.
This has been a big topic all offseason as we wait to see whether the Eagles bring back Jason Peters for another season or turn over the position to their 2019 first-round pick.
The similarities between Dillard and Fisher are worth exploring.
As a reminder, when Andy Reid took over in Kansas City (and brought Pederson with him) in 2013, they used the No. 1 overall pick on Fisher out of Central Michigan.
Fisher started 13 games at right tackle as a rookie but struggled and fans took notice. It took him a few years to remove the bust label from his name but in 2018 he was named a Pro Bowler and in 2019 he was the starting left tackle in Super Bowl LIV.
There are plenty of similarities between Fisher and Dillard:
As you can see, both players were known for their athletic profiles when they came out of college. But both also needed to work on their strength.
After the 2013 season, then-Chiefs GM John Dorsey said this about Fisher: “He understands that he’s got an offseason to get bigger and stronger. Size will help him a little bit.”
It should. Getting stronger was the No. 1 thing Dillard needed to do this offseason. It was even the first thing he mentioned the day after the 2019 season ended. He said he already weighed around 320 pounds but he needed to change the composition of that weight.
“I just want to get stronger and keep studying up and learning different tips and tricks,” Dillard said on locker cleanout day.
And earlier this month, All-Pro center Jason Kelce also admitted that building strength is the main thing Dillard needed to work on. The good news, Kelce said, was that Dillard had all the things that can’t be added later like his quick twitch, athleticism and intelligence.
Fisher played his entire rookie season as a right tackle before moving to left tackle in 2014. Dillard played minimally overall in 2019 but was much better in his three starts at left tackle than he was in his one disastrous half at right tackle.
It’s not like Fisher has really grown into a superstar and he still probably hasn’t lived up to his No. 1 draft pick status. Remember, Lane Johnson was taken at No. 4 that season (Luke Joeckel was No. 2). But Fisher has improved a lot since he entered the league and has started nearly 100 games in the NFL for one of the best teams in the league.
Fisher was mentally strong enough to get over his early-career struggles and the Eagles have to hope that Dillard is able to do what he needs to do to be successful too. And unlike Fisher in 2013, we didn’t really see Dillard on the field very much as a rookie.
Still, Dillard said he made his biggest jump as a player in his one NFL season and learned a lot from the few games he did play.
“I’m really glad that I got those chances because that’s what I was brought in to do for the future,” Dillard said in January. “It helped me get my feet wet a little bit and really helped me kind of gauge what it’s like being out there on the big stage in live situations.”
The Eagles are counting on Dillard to return with more physical and mental strength, ready to take over as their starting left tackle.
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