In hindsight, the Eagles’ decision to start Andre Dillard at right tackle against the Seahawks on Sunday was ill-advised, to say the least.
Dillard struggled with the position change, forcing the Eagles to send their first-round draft pick back to the bench at halftime. And though the other options at that spot weren’t great, the rookie’s issues were predictable, as he played exclusively left tackle since his junior year in high school.
“If you do something one way your whole life and then you’ve suddenly gotta change it for the next five days, how would you feel,” said Dillard postgame. “It’s tough, but I just do my best for the team.”
The Eagles could’ve chosen Halapoulivaati Vaitai to replace Lane Johnson, who missed Sunday’s game with a concussion. Vaitai played poorly in relief of Johnson the previous week, either, but he’s at least played the position for the Eagles previously – quite well when coached up.
Vaitai has been at both left and right tackle, so he knows firsthand how difficult it is to move, admitting it wasn’t until after his first season he felt comfortable on either side.
“I understand what he’s going through,” said Vaitai. “It’s life. If your name is called, just go out there and have fun.
“He is a great athlete, just going different positions is a little overwhelming.”
Chosen with the 22nd pick and regarded by some draft experts as a top-10 talent, Dillard played the bulk of the snaps at left tackle in four games, including three starts, and was OK. At the very least, he still looks like a fine prospect at his natural position.
It wasn’t like writing an essay with your offhand, an analogy several Eagles O-lineman have been heard using recently, and apparently how Dillard felt about playing on the right with only a few days of practice.
“I just needed more reps,” said Vaitai, recalling his experience flipping sides.
Of course, Dillard may have found himself pressed into action at right tackle on Sunday regardless of the decision leading up to the game.
Right guard Brandon Brooks exited the game in the first half with an illness, forcing Vaitai into the lineup in his place. When Dillard eventually got the hook, Vaitai moved over to tackle, and 2018 sixth-round pick Matt Pryor saw his first offensive snaps as a pro.
“Everybody waits on that moment to get called,” said Pryor. “It’s exciting and stressful at the same time because you don’t know how it’s gonna go.”
A right side with Vaitai and Pryor each in positions they’re comfortable was a slight improvement, though the Eagles only found the end zone for the first time all game with 20 seconds in regulation.
Point being, no matter what the Eagles’ plans going in, Brooks’ exit complicated an already difficult situation, and may have forced the team to plug Dillard in at right tackle with no experience at all.
Presumably, both Brooks and Johnson will be able to return in the near future, which is a plus. The only other offensive linemen on the Eagles’ roster are undrafted rookie Nate Herbig and Jordan Mailata, who’s currently on injured reserve. Neither has appeared in a regular season game.
In the meantime, with whatever combination of Dillard, Vaitai and Pryor on the right side, the offensive line was not good enough on Sunday.
“They just outplayed us,” said Vaitai. “We’ve gotta step it up.”
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