It was August of last summer, and Jeff Stoutland gathered his players together for another team meeting.
He looked out in the meeting room and saw the usual suspects: Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo and everybody else who was getting ready for the season.
And there — in the front row — was Andre Dillard.
Who had just suffered a torn biceps injury at practice and was out for the year.
“This guy stayed here,” Stoutland says now. “He never left. Andre Dillard was in every single position meeting. Andre Dillard sat in the front of the room with a notebook and took notes on every single thing I said.”
Dillard was coming off an up-and-down rookie season, and his three solid starts in place of Jason Peters at left tackle were pretty much forgotten after a nightmarish late-season emergency start against the Seahawks at right tackle in place of Johnson.
The 2020 season was the former 1st-round pick’s chance to bounce back. But he never got the chance.
His season was over before the season began.
But Dillard was determined to make the most of his idle time. If he couldn’t be out on the field at practice and he couldn’t play in games, he was going to learn as much as he could in meetings.
“As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know if that was legal,” Stoutland said. “(I wondered) are you allowed to be (here)?’”
He was allowed to be there, and early on Stoutland decided that if Dillard was going to be in the front row for every meeting, Stoutland was going to treat him like every lineman on the active roster.
“I would hit him with questions during the meeting,” he said. “Game planning questions. I said, ‘Andre, if you’re going to be here, I’m going to make it like you’re playing. Let’s play with our magical friend. Let’s pretend that you’re going to go play in the game and then maybe we won’t develop the rust and the barnacles … and your mind will stay sharp. And that’s kind of how we played it out all year with Andre.”
So every week, Stoutland prepared both Dillard and Jordan Mailata to play left tackle on Sunday afternoon.
Then Dillard would sit and watch and Mailata would go out and play.
Dillard is healthy now and girding for a training camp battle with Mailata for the starting left tackle position.
Stoutland said neither player has an advantage going into camp. They’re dead even.
Which tells you how far Dillard has come. Or at least how far Stoutland believes he’s come.
And it all started 10 months ago in the o-line meeting room at the NovaCare Complex, where Dillard began the process of reinventing himself as a football player.
“I think that’s kind of how it really started with him because I do see a hungrier guy, I see a guy who is more serious,” Stoutland said. “I’m just being honest with you. This is going through the meetings, going through the position (meetings), out there on the field, watching him move. Him and Isaac (Seumalo), they move like they’re identical. The way they move together. They’re pretty quick, those guys. And he’s thicker and he’s stronger. …
"He’s thicker up top, he’s bigger, he’s heavier. I really do like what he’s done in the offseason.”
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