After five minutes of listening to Andre Dillard talk about his rookie season, all the ways he’s grown and how he was able to deal with a brand new situation in Philadelphia, it was time to cut through all the fluff and get to the big question.
If the Eagles ask you to be the starting left tackle next year, are you ready?
“Yeah,” Dillard said. “I believe that I am.”
Good enough for me.
The reason the Eagles traded up to draft Dillard with the No. 22 pick in the spring was to replace legendary Jason Peters. And, after one year, that time has come. Sure, Peters said after the playoff loss that he wants to keep playing and would like to keep playing in Philly, but he’s going to be a free agent and the Eagles need to move on.
It’s time for the Eagles to say thank you to the soon-to-be 38-year-old future Hall of Famer and move forward with the young first-round pick.
Dillard, 24, had some ups and downs during his rookie season. But there’s plenty of reason to think he’s ready.
Sure, trying to start him at right tackle in the first Seahawks game was an absolute disaster. It got so bad that the Eagles benched him at halftime and went with Halapoulivaati Vaitai instead. Based on his comments that week and his play on the field, Dillard seemed overwhelmed by the request to switch to the other side of the line. That wasn’t great.
But in the three games Dillard played left tackle, filling in when Peters had a knee scope, the rookie played very well. In fact, it’s that three game stretch — against the Cowboys, Bills and Bears in the middle of the season — that should have everyone feeling pretty confident about the changing of the tackle.
I’m really glad that I got those chances because that’s what I was brought in to do for the future,” Dillard said. “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.
Dillard admitted there was an adjustment period once Peters came back. He started three games, then had to go back to working with the scout team. But he understood the situation.
Dillard and Peters became close this year. Credit Peters because he really took his replacement under his wing. That began all the way back at mandatory minicamp and continued throughout the summer and then the regular season. Dillard said it’s a relationship that will continue. If Dillard can become the true left tackle of the future, he can continue the Eagles’ line of impressive left tackles over a three-decade period from Tra Thomas to Peters to Dillard.
And now that his rookie season is over, Dillard is looking forward to catching his breath. He went from his last college season to pre-draft prep to the NFL season without much down time.
Transitioning from college life in Washington to the pros in Philly wasn’t always easy.
“One of the biggest differences I noticed was the people,” Dillard said. “You’re at Washington State, Pullman, Washington, kind of countryside, middle of nowhere. You kind of know everybody; everybody is nice to each other, just super friendly. Then you come here and your own fans say just foul things to you. Everybody, fans, media, they’ll hate you one minute and love you the next. That’s the big difference that I learned. Just going from small city to big city in itself, it’s a lot different.”
A lot of the work Dillard did this season was in the weight room. He still weighs 320 pounds but his focus has been on changing the composition of that weight, getting stronger.
This year, he learned a lot about his body, about technique, about how important the mental side of the NFL and finding a routine can be.
So how much better of a player is he now after his rookie season?
“I can’t even describe it,” Dillard said. “I’ve made my biggest jump by far as a player in my first year here. It’s been an incredible learning experience.”
Come next season, it’s time to put those lessons to use.
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