The Eagles didn’t draft Andre Dillard to be a backup.
When they traded up in the first round back in 2019, they took Dillard out of Washington with the aim to make him their left tackle of the future, to replace a legend in Jason Peters.
It just hasn’t quite worked out that way.
And now that Dillard lost the left tackle battle to Jordan Mailata, who was then rewarded with a $64 million contract extension, the former first-round pick is transitioning to his role as a reserve player.
“Andre’s been great. He’s really embraced the role now,” Mailata said on Friday. “He’s adopting what Coach (Nick) Sirianni was saying: Embrace your role, know your role. And he’s at the end of practice working on the sets on both sides.
“He’s just really trying to nail it down. So he’s working right tackle, he’s working left tackle, he’s doing everything he can to be a valuable member of this team. I respect that.”
Dillard, 25, dressed last Sunday but didn’t see a single snap on offense. And he played just five total snaps on special teams.
But he knows and the team knows that they’re just one injury away from needing Dillard on either side, especially with second-year player Jack Driscoll on IR.
This week in practice, Dillard was seen taking reps at right tackle, which is an important step, and that was the theme of offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland’s message to Dillard after Mailata won the starting left tackle job.
“Andre obviously got injured during camp and that kind of hurt him. He was doing well. I really mean that. He was doing well,” Stoutland said. “I was very happy with some of the things he was doing and then he got hurt and then it became, ‘Oh man, here we go again.’ And so the thing unfolds and I said, ‘Andre, when you’re not one of the five starters, you have to play multiple positions.’
“And he’s been great with that. He’s been playing right tackle, left tackle. Because it’s different. Some guys have a much easier time going to the right side, so he’s been working on that right now and that’s been going pretty good.”
The Eagles once tried to put Dillard at right tackle during his rookie season in 2019 and it was a disaster. He lasted just a half against the Seahawks before the Eagles pulled him out of the game.
What was perhaps more troubling, however, was that he approached that start at right tackle with what was characterized by many as a defeatist attitude. Dillard had played left tackle since high school and he compared it to going to write an essay with the opposite hand. He didn’t exactly exude confident in the week leading up to the game and then he was horrible in it.
But the Eagles — and most teams, really — value versatility in their backup offensive linemen. Having a left-tackle-only backup isn’t a luxury many teams can afford. All the Eagles backups bring some sort of position flexibility and it’s up to Dillard to learn the right side too.
While Dillard didn’t approach that with the best attitude in 2019, he’s not wrong about how difficult it can be, especially for a guy who hasn’t played those spots before. Stoutland agreed that it’s generally harder for a player who has been on one side his whole football life to suddenly flip to the other. There’ a lot of muscle memory to fight against.
“Some guys, like when Jordan was swinging back and forth, no problem,” Stoutland said. “We had other players in the past, they had some issues going to the right side. Other guys, no problem. Because there’s a balance issue when you change. You don’t want to be leaning outside when you’re on the right side. You take a left side player who’s usually leaning inside and you put them on the right, now they’re leaning. Some guys have no issues with that, some guys do.”
Dillard was a first-round pick just a few years ago and now that Mailata is entrenched as the Eagles’ starting left tackle, perhaps the Eagles try to trade him. But how much value does he really have? Dillard played just a few games as a rookie, missed his entire second season and then got hurt this summer and lost a position battle.
Because of all that, Dillard is still here.
The Eagles certainly didn’t draft him in the first round to be a backup, but that’s the situation they’re in. The team and Dillard just have to try to make the best of it.
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