It was the Saturday before the first day of the NFL draft, and Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland had some unanswered questions.
He knew the Eagles were very interested in drafting Andre Dillard in the first round if he dropped down into the 20s.
But because Dillard was projected to be gone long before the Eagles picked at 25, Stoutland never had a chance to visit him at Washington State.
I like when you go out to the school, you get a chance the night before you go sit down with him, you sit in the classroom, the next morning you wake up, you do the workout, and if there’s anything else you need to do you hang around a little longer,” Stoutland said. “I didn’t have that chance to do that with him. … You try to make sure you know everything about every player, but to be honest with you, everybody thought he was kind of out of our reach. You can’t go everywhere. You can’t go out and visit all the players and work them all out. It’s impossible. There’s not enough time.
But Stoutland wasn’t comfortable enough to really go to bat for him. Not yet.
If the Eagles were on the clock and owner Jeff Lurie or executive vice president of football operations suddenly asked Stoutland some crucial questions about Dillard, did he truly have the answers?
When Mr. Lurie or Howie asks me a question about a particular player, I better have an answer, that’s my job,” Stoutland said Monday. “With (Dillard), I needed more information.
What exactly was Stout looking for?
“Just the football intelligence part of it and how important is the game, the whole makeup,” he said. “I wanted to just double back on it all.”
It was way too late to bring Dillard into Philly or set up a visit on campus.
So five days before the draft, on what would have been a normal, quiet day off for the veteran offensive line coach, Stoutland decided to call Dillard and just try to get a better feel for who he was as a person and as a player.
“My wife goes, ‘Where are you going?’” Stoutland recalled.
“And I said, ‘Look, I’m going in the other room, everybody just leave me alone for a little bit, I need to make one phone call and I’m good for the rest of the day.’”
Most mock drafts and draft analysts had Dillard going in that 12-18 range, with some projecting him a little higher and some a little lower.
Stoutland knew he could be wasting his time, contacting a kid who was projected to be long gone by the time it was the Eagles’ turn to draft.
But he picked up the phone anyway.
I called him, it was early in the morning, he said, ‘Give me half an hour,’ and then he called back and we Skyped and I had a chance to speak to him,” Stoutland said. “(I told him), ‘You never know in the draft what can happen,’ and I said I’m just making sure. We had a nice conversation. … I felt very, very comfortable and very good with that conversation. Never thought anything would come of it, to be quite honest with you.
On draft day, with the legendary position coach now comfortable with Dillard and Dillard dropping, the Eagles moved up three spots to select him at No. 22.
“You’re sitting there watching the draft and they’re selecting all the defensive linemen and now all the (offensive line) quality is getting pushed back and you’re saying, ‘Holy cow, we might have a shot at this,’” Stoutland said. “And it all worked out.”
Stoutland has been coaching offensive linemen at a high level for a long time, going back to the early 1990s at Cornell.
What did Dillard share with Stoutland during that conversation on April 20?
I just liked the love of football,” he said. “The importance of it to him. Being prepared. I liked the fact that he’s looking for somebody that’s going to challenge him. … I would say also an increased football intelligence, probably better than I thought. I did ask him some detailed questions, which he answered really good. Sometimes when you have a 1-on-1 conversation with somebody when there’s not a lot of people around, you learn a lot more.
It’s too early to tell whether Dillard will carry on the left tackle tradition of Tra Thomas and Jason Peters, but Stoutland said the 23-year-old Dillard so far has been everything he expected in practice.
If Dillard is what the Stoutland thinks he is, the Eagles will be set at left tackle for a decade once Peters finally retires.
All because of that one extra phone call that Stoutland just had to make.
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