Before the season, when Andre Dillard found out that Jordan Mailata won the battle between the two to become the Eagles’ starting left tackle, his reaction was subdued.
“Well, OK,” he thought to himself.
Time to move forward.
“Coach was always talking about embracing your role on the team,” Dillard said on Thursday afternoon. “‘Be a star in your role,’ he would say. I just took that to heart once I figured out what my role was. I just went with it. I was very happy for Jordan though.”
Dillard, 25, was drafted in the first-round to be the Eagles’ future left tackle but that hasn’t gone to plan. He was obviously disappointed he didn’t win the left tackle job this summer after a knee limited him in training camp.
But his attitude since losing that battle hasn’t only been refreshing; it’s also been good for the Eagles.
Because in the first couple weeks of the season, Dillard focused on his role as a backup swing tackle, practicing on both sides of the line.
Then when Mailata sprained his MCL last week, Dillard switched his focus to his new role as the first-team left tackle and played well in the start against the Cowboys. With Mailata still on the mend, Dillard will make his second consecutive start on Sunday afternoon against the Chiefs, he confirmed.
“I’m just embracing my role and trying to be a star in my role,” Dillard said. “And my role now is starting left tackle for this next game. I just really put everything I have into fulfilling that to the best of my ability.”
This level of maturity from Dillard is a welcome sign. Just a couple years ago, he was the rookie who approached his switch to right tackle in a pinch with a defeatist attitude and failed to handle criticism well in a new city that was full of it.
Dillard has matured. That shows by the grace with which he’s handled this current situation.
That maturity has allowed him to keep his focus. And, among other things, it helped him play pretty well against the Cowboys last week. He played all 58 snaps and in 48 pass blocking snaps, gave up just two total pressures.
The last time before Monday we saw Dillard play in a regular season game was during his rookie season in 2019.
In Dallas, he showed he’s a much better player than he was back then. What makes him better?
“There’s a few things, confidence being one of them,” Dillard said. “As a rookie, sometimes it can be a deer in headlights situation, just for any rookie. Strength is another thing. I’m a lot stronger than I was two years ago. Just my overall preparation for practice and games and my overall experience. I kind of understand the way that things flow. It just comes with age a little bit.”
The Eagles had a lot of problems on Monday Night Football; Dillard wasn’t one of them.
He showed he can play and the Eagles are still a better team with him on the roster than without him.
“I think I held my own out there, I think I did pretty well,” Dillard said. “Obviously it wasn’t what we wanted and we obviously have to regroup as a team and learn from our mistakes on that one. But I think I did alright in that game.”
Not only did Mailata win the left tackle job, but the Eagles also signed him to a $64 million extension before the opener. So not only did Dillard lose the left tackle gig this year, he lost it for good. Dillard was drafted to be the future left tackle of the Eagles but that future now belongs to Mailata.
Dillard is in the third year of his four-year rookie contract. Maybe he’ll eventually get traded. Maybe he’ll remain a backup. Maybe he’ll keep getting playing time if Mailata can’t stay on the field.
But all Dillard is thinking about is playing on Sunday against the Chiefs. Again, that attitude is refreshing and beneficial.
“I really just think about what’s right in front of me. Kansas City Chiefs,” Dillard said. “Embracing the role that I’m in right now. I don’t think too much about that. But I am just over-the-top happy for Jordan. He’s got an amazing story and he deserves all of it. Major props to him.”
Major props to Dillard too. No, he’s not the Eagles’ left tackle of the future. But he’s the Eagles left tackle of right now.
And it’s a credit to him that he’s ready for that role.
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