This Sunday night will be the biggest game of the Eagles’ 2019 season to date. A contest between their hated rival on national television for first place in the NFC East.
It will also be Andre Dillard’s first NFL start.
The Eagles drafted him to play, but is the first-round rookie ready for this moment?
“Very ready,” Dillard said Friday. “I prepare every week like I’m going to play. I’m just doing that this week. Whatever happens, happens.”
It should help that he’ll have Jason Peters with him every step of the way. Peters (knee) was ruled out for Sunday’s game, but he was at both practices on Wednesday and Thursday, acting as a sort of personal coach for Dillard.
And last Sunday against the Vikings, Peters would meet with Dillard after every series to coach him up on technique and to point out things Dillard might not have seen from the defense.
“He’s been a great teacher, mentor, big brother figure for me,” Dillard said. “Since I got here, I’ve learned so much as a player just from being around him and talking to him all the time and picking his brain here or there. Just a lot of useful things that I’ve learned as a player and as a person.”
This, of course, isn’t why the Eagles brought back Peters this year. They brought him back to play left tackle, not to be a coach. But it still helps to have a future Hall of Famer watching and critiquing every move Dillard makes.
And this isn’t the first time he’s done it. You’ll remember the role Peters had in the 2017 season after he went down with an ACL tear. He was a big part of Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s success down the stretch of the Super Bowl year.
“Yeah, and you see it,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “I saw it last week in practice when J.P. missed some time in practice last week, he's coaching up Andre; he's coaching up Andre this week. What a great resource to have right there by your side, someone that's an All-Pro, is going to be a Hall of Fame left tackle, who can really give you some insight probably more so than us as coaches.
“We just look at the tape and go, ‘Hey, do this, do that,’ and try to teach off of that, where Jason is the guy that's been out there playing, and he understands what it takes. That's a great resource for Andre.”
This isn’t even anything new for Peters and Dillard. From the time Peters arrived at mandatory minicamp, he’s been teaching his much younger teammate every chance he gets.
Dillard said he’s trying to treat this week like any other, but it obviously isn’t. He got the full complement of first-team reps at practice and has been armed with the knowledge that he’ll need to play all week.
In previous weeks, though, Dillard had been mixing in with the ones. Even before Peters suffered his knee injury and missed some more time, the Eagles have been limiting Peters’ work in practice, dating all the way back to training camp. If there are 10 first-team reps, Peters would take the first six or seven and leave the rest for Dillard. The idea was to keep Peters fresh and get Dillard ready.
On Sunday, Dillard will mostly face Robert Quinn but also expects to see DeMarcus Lawrence here and there. Pederson said that, as the play-caller, he can help Dillard by design and formation. But they’re not going to overthink this and they’re not going to “clutter his mind.”
“You want him to be as free as he can be,” Pederson said, “and let him use his ability to play.”
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