Andre Dillard knows what people were thinking.
On one side of the football, it’s Khalil Mack, a three-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler, one of the NFL’s top pass rushers.
On the other side of the football, it’s Andre Dillard, making his third career start.
Sound like a mismatch?
I don’t have any social media anymore,” Dillard said. “I don’t really search on the internet for anything. But I can guarantee people were like, ‘Oh, Khalil Mack vs. the rookie, Khalil Mack this, Khalil Mack that.’ I can guarantee that everybody was doing that.
It’s understandable that much was made of the matchup between the rookie left tackle, playing in place of injured Jason Peters, and Mack, whose 54½ sacks since the start of 2015 are third most in the NFL.
And although Mack didn’t line up opposite Dillard all the time in Sunday's Eagles-Bears game at the Linc, he lined up opposite him enough that Dillard had his hands full.
“I’d say I had to grow up a little bit faster than normal,” he said.
Dillard didn’t completely neutralize Mack, and he had some help, but he really held his own against one of the league’s elite pass rushers.
Mack finished with four tackles, one QB hit and zero sacks in the Eagles’ 22-14 win over the Bears at the Linc (see observations).
The biggest challenge for Dillard was forgetting Mack’s résumé and just going out and doing his job.
First of all, I was like, ‘Holy crap, this is Khalil Mack in front of me,’” Dillard said. “I’ve watched him on TV before I was even here. He’s really an amazing player, strong and fast, he’s got it all. I just did everything that I was trained to do and survived it.
Dillard has faced some truly elite pass rushers in his 3½ games since replacing Peters.
But he tries not to see them as Khalil Mack or Everson Griffen or Robert Quinn.
For me, when I’m studying film, it’s No. 52. Or No. 94. That’s just how I see it. No. 97 likes to do this, No. 52 likes to do this. Put aside all the crazy hype and they’re just another player, when you get right down to it.
Dillard, the 22nd pick in this year’s draft, is the first Eagles rookie to start at left tackle since Tra Thomas 21 years ago.
You can see the improvement each week. It’s not easy to lose a future Hall of Famer, but Dillard has stepped in and done as well as anybody could have hoped.
His confidence is just growing,” Zach Ertz said. “At that position I feel like confidence is the No. 1 thing. You could put it on the athleticism, the weight, whatever it is, but I feel like I feel like if you’re a confident tackle, it’s going to take you a long way. It’s not something that happens overnight. The kid’s played a lot of good pass rushers the last couple weeks and he’s battled his butt off. Really proud of the way he’s battled. He’s going to be a heck of a player.
Dillard played at a Washington State program that ran the ball less than any college in the country, so there were going to be questions that he had to answer about his run blocking.
But the Eagles have run the ball 104 times for 479 yards in his three starts, 4.6 yards a pop.
This is the first time since 2017 the Eagles have rushed for 115 yards in three straight games. In wins over the Bills and Bears — two big-time defenses — they've run for 218 and 146 yards.
I definitely think that I’m improving each week with different little things,” he said. “Still not very experienced, still need to get that experience, and that just comes with the days, with the games, everything. Just got to keep stacking on the days.
Nobody knows when Peters will be healthy enough to play.
Doug Pederson’s policy is generally that injured players get their jobs back, even if their replacement has performed well. Considering it's a nine-time Pro Bowler we're talking about, if Peters is healthy at any point the rest of the year he’ll probably be back in there.
But Dillard has shown that when Peters does move on — which will likely be after this season — left tackle is in good hands for many years to come.
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