'Holy crap, this is Khalil Mack in front of me' — and Andre Dillard 'survived it'

'Holy crap, this is Khalil Mack in front of me' — and Andre Dillard 'survived it'

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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Eagle Eye podcast: The biggest news from the combine

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Eagle Eye podcast: The biggest news from the combine

On the latest Eagle Eye podcast, Reuben Frank is joined by Dave Zangaro from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis to go over the biggest storylines of the day. 

Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson spoke to reporters on Tuesday about a wide range of topics. 

Will Jason Peters return? Have the Eagles changed their free agent philosophy? And what will the coaching staff really look like in 2020? 

• One more year of Jason Peters? 
• Eagles might change free agency approach
• More details about the coaching structure
• The rise of Press Taylor 
• What will Rich Scangarello do?  
• Breaking down Duce Staley’s role in the organization 

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Eagles leave open possibility that Jason Peters returns in 2020

Eagles leave open possibility that Jason Peters returns in 2020

INDIANAPOLIS — Jason Peters is 38 years old, will become a free agent in less than a month and the Eagles already drafted his replacement in the first round a little less than a year ago.

This seems pretty simple, right?

Yet, as Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson spoke to reporters on Tuesday at the NFL’s Scouting Combine, neither man was ready to say the team is moving on.

“I think as it pertains to all of our free agents, it’s important that we keep an open mind with everyone and try to figure out as we get more information,” Roseman said.

“A big part of this week is accumulating information. That’s what we do here. Obviously, when you’re talking about Jason Peters, you’re talking about a Hall of Fame player, a Hall of Fame person, someone that’s very special to us and played at a really high level last year. We’ll go through all those decisions this week.”

Pederson gave less of a politician answer.

“Heck yeah,” Pederson said when asked if he wants Peters back next season.

So that leads us to this: Is there really a chance the Eagles would re-sign a 38-year-old left tackle instead of playing a first-round pick they traded up to get less than a year ago?

It seems crazy.

Coming into Tuesday, I thought there was a chance Roseman would get to the podium and use the forum as a chance to make a statement about Peters. I thought, maybe, he would get up there and tell us all that the Eagles were planning to let Peters hit the free agent market, thank him for his time and give a vote of confidence to Andre Dillard as the left tackle of the future.

That didn’t happen.

In fact, Roseman and Pederson actually invited more speculation and I walked away thinking there’s actually a chance they try to bring back Peters for next season, even though it sounds pretty crazy.

Maybe they just haven’t talked to Peters yet. That’s possible. In a case like this, if the Eagles want to move on, they wouldn’t want to do anything to disrespect a guy who has been here a decade and will likely end up in Canton. Even Roseman admitted that it’s important to treat guys of this magnitude a little differently.

“There’s no question,” Roseman said. “When you talk about guys who are historic players in the National Football League, guys who are going into the Hall of Fame, guys who are going into the Eagles Hall of Fame, those guys are special people and special players and you don’t have a lot of those during the course of your career.

“So you try to make decisions first that are best for the football team and at the same time have respect and appreciation for what guys have done and what guys have done going forward and have been a part of your organization for a long time.”

Peters played the 2019 season on a renegotiated one-year deal that he signed in March. And while Peters didn’t play at an All Pro level last year, he was still pretty good.

But throughout last season, it seemed like the Eagles were going to let Peters play and groom Dillard. And, sure, Dillard struggled at right tackle in his one start at the position, but acquitted himself quite well at left tackle when Peters missed a three-game stretch.

On Tuesday, I asked Pederson about the possibility that bringing back Peters could stunt Dillard’s long-term development. I mean, what would it say about a first-round rookie if the Eagles didn’t start him in Year 2 and instead re-signed a 38-year old to play in front of him?

“Andre is the guy we selected,” Pederson said. “He was our top pick a year ago. We feel like he has a bright future. Again, this is where that fine line comes in. We have to have some difficult conversations, not only for us internally but with the players.”

Pederson said his feelings about wanting Peters back are similar to the way he felt about Darren Sproles. Well, the Eagles brought Sproles back in 2018 and 2019 and he got hurt both seasons. It seems like a cautionary tale.

And unlike Sproles, who was a rotational player, if Peters returns, he’ll be the starting left tackle.

“It is that simple when it comes down to it,” Pederson said. “It’s either JP or it’s Andre and those are decisions we have to make.”

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