During the summer of 2011, when Mike Leach was in between coaching jobs at Texas Tech and Washington State, he spent a couple days at Eagles training camp with his close friend Marty Mornhinweg.
Leach was up at Lehigh to visit Mornhinweg, then the Eagles' offensive coordinator, but also to learn about the Andy Reid offense, a pass-happy system in an increasingly pass-happy league. The Eagles’ quarterback coach back then? A guy named Doug Pederson. You've probably heard of him.
Two years later, Leach became head coach at Washington State and installed an offense that Eagles fans might recognize.
The Cougars throw. A lot. Like a record-setting amount.
There are certainly differences in Washington State’s offense and the Eagles’, but check this out: Since 2012, when Leach became Washington State’s head coach, the Cougars have thrown 727 more passes than any other Division I program.
Last year, the Cougars netted 4,859 passing yards and 1,096 rushing yards.
And who was blocking Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew’s blindside when he threw 51 passes per game this year, most in college football?
See how this all fits together?
The Eagles moved up three spots from 25 to 22 Thursday night to draft Dillard out of Washington State, and when you talk about fit, it’s hard to imagine a better one.
More and more each year, the NFL is a passing league, and the Eagles are certainly near the forefront of that trend. They’ve thrown the ball the sixth most in the NFL in three years under Pederson, and that’s not going to change.
That’s how you win in today’s NFL.
And in Dillard, the Eagles have a guy who grew up not only playing under the coach who’s historically thrown the ball more than any coach in major college football history, but also grew up playing in a system designed by a guy who studied Pederson’s mentor.
So the Eagles just drafted a guy who’s been playing in a pretty close approximation of the Eagles’ offense for the last four years.
Offensive linemen are boring, but can you imagine where the Eagles would have been over the last two decades without Tra Thomas and Jason Peters?
Over the last 21 years, Thomas and Peters started 293 of a possible 336 games at left tackle for the Eagles. They are both all-time Eagles, and now the Eagles have the heir apparent.
Dillard is big and strong and NFL-ready. He’s got a lot to learn, and he’s got a Hall of Famer to learn it from. But at some point — some point soon — he’ll carry on that left tackle tradition that No. 72 and No. 71 have built.
It’s hard to imagine anybody coming into this offense more prepared than a guy who pass blocked more than 2,000 times over the last four years. Over 50 times per game.
The Eagles have an elite quarterback they have to keep healthy if they’re going to have a chance to continue as an elite team. Peters is 37 and heading into his 16th season. He’s a Hall of Famer, but he’s nearing the end.
Jordan Mailata is an intriguing prospect, but he’s never played a snap in the NFL, he’s been playing organized football for only a year, and as big and strong and powerful as he is, when you have a chance to snag an Andre Dillard, you have to do it.
The Eagles have been building along the lines for nearly three decades, and although there have been missteps along the way — we’ll save you the agony by not mentioning Jon Harris, Danny Watkins, Bernard Williams, Leonard Renfro, etc. — it’s a philosophy that’s proven to be wise.
The Eagles build out from the trenches, and they win a lot of football games because of it.
Dillard will show up here for OTAs next month looking like a guy who’s already played in this offense. Because for all intents and purposes, he has.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.