Build from the ball out. That’s been the sentiment from Howie Roseman and the Eagles front office over the course of the last two seasons. Finding your franchise quarterback is one thing, but a failure to buy him time in the pocket and keep him upright is only going to chain down your offense, just ask the Indianapolis Colts.
From the extension handed to Lane Johnson, the drafting of Isaac Seumalo and signing of Brandon Brooks, the Eagles have built a formidable front for Carson Wentz to rule behind, but they lost a valuable piece of that puzzle just a few days ago. The Eagles traded Allen Barbre to the Broncos for a conditional draft pick, elevating Seumalo to the starting role and cementing yet more continuity. The only downside to the move is that the Eagles have lost a very serviceable interior guard who could play, and has played at nearly every spot on the Eagles offensive line. This has left fans wondering who the next man up really is…turning to Training Camp for the answer. While the likes of Chance Warmack and Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come to the minds of many…there’s one lineman who is flying under the radar of many, but standing out to those who matter; the coaches.
That man is Dillon Gordon. Signed by the team as an undrafted free agent one year ago, Gordon is following in the path of one of the greatest left tackles of all time, Jason Peters. The nine-time Pro Bowler also went undrafted back in 2004, winding up in Buffalo after ending his collegiate career as a blocking tight end at Arkansas. Earning Second-Team All SEC honors in 2003, Peters entered the NFL as a complete underdog, and after converting to the offensive line, eventually found his way to the City of Brotherly Love five years later.
It’s something that Pederson noted in his press conference prior to the Military Appreciation Day at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
“Well, he was a tight end in college.” Pederson began. “Brought him in. Athletic guy. Big guy. Someone we felt could kind of get in that mold of the Jason Peters. Jason Peters, tight end guy, college. Started his first couple years as a tight end in the National Football League before converting to a tackle.”
However, Peters isn’t the only player on the starting unit to transition from elsewhere. A former walk-on linebacker, Jason Kelce switched to the offensive line prior to his sophomore year and was drafted in the sixth round. Lane Johnson, the team’s franchise right tackle, was a former quarterback and tight end for the Kilgore Rangers, before he transferred to the Oklahoma Sooners. Spending time as a tight end and defensive end, Johnson made the switch to the offensive line in 2011. Starting 11 of 13 games as the team’s left tackle one year later, Johnson was named a third-team all American. That switch of course, saw Johnson drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. That same DNA runs through the veins of Dillon Gordon.
Gordon Played in 42 games during his time at LSU and started 28. The three-year starter had his 2015 campaign as a tight end cut short after rupturing his achilles in a game against Florida. Gordon played a very similar role as a Tiger to what Brent Celek does now. The run blocking tight end was a large part of LSU’s continued run heavy offensive success in 2014, starting in every game and helping the team rush for 2,919 yards…the school’s 5th-highest single-season rushing total.
A strong summer was followed by an impressive preseason, prompting the Eagles to keep Gordon on their roster and eventually play him in one game as a rookie. A move which one year later, carries a lot of weight. Gordon now has his chance to carve a niche in the Eagles offensive line, not only following in the footsteps of Peters, but echoing the noise made by Allen Barbre during his tenure with the team.
Without Barbre, the Eagles will place even more value on versatility, as the consistent swing tackle role has now been made vacant. However, Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich spoke highly of Gordon and his potential to step up to the mark.
“Yeah, that swing tackle is a very critical position, because odds are, he’s going to play. So you’ve just got to keep swinging — that’s, by nature, what they have to do. They drew the short straw, right? The guys who are starters get to work their side and be good at their side. But when you’re the backup, you’ve got to be versatile.
When you’re a backup player, you’ve got to be versatile, especially up front. It’s good for those guys. They accept that challenge, and I think they work very hard at it.
What sped up the process is two things. One, he’s worked really hard at it. It’s been important to him, and he’s really developed.
Second, he’s getting good coaching between [Offensive line coach] Jeff Stoutland and [Assistant offensive line /tight ends/run game coach] Eugene Chung working with him for these years. But the bulk of the credit goes to him because he’s got to embrace that. He’s got to embrace that transition for him and [he has] really gotten better each year and has looked good so far.”
It’s not just the work ethic that has seen Gordon rise up the ranks. After entering the league at 308 lbs, Gordon now stands at 324 lbs, considerably bulking his frame and and almost mirroring the 6’4, 328 lbs frame possessed by Jason Peters. As the comparisons grow, so does their bond on the field.
Jason Peters mentoring Dillon Gordon during OL drills. JP is never shy to help the young guys out. Underrated value to the team. #Eagles
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) July 29, 2017
Jason Peters has long been seen as a mentor, but helping out a player who has already come on leaps and bounds since arriving as an undrafted free agent can only mean good things. After playing in 2 snaps against the Ravens and helping on special teams, Gordon continued to learn behind the Eagles veterans…and now with the road ahead cleared, his name is being called for a potential spot as a backup.
“I’m not comparing him to Jason, but that’s the path that Jason took.” Doug Pederson told the media. “It’s very similar to Dillon. He’s learning. A young player. He’s just got to get better each day. Every rep that he gets is a valuable rep for him. Comes down to just the focus and just detailing his work. But he’s done a nice job for us.”
Gordon opened Training Camp on the second team offensive line and has seen work at left tackle, but with Barbre now traded and the swing tackle role needing a new face, it’s time to see what Gordon is made of. The Eagles clearly felt confident enough in the potential of this undrafted free agent (and Big V) to justify parting ways with Allen Barbre. Both guys are under the age of 25, but both also have a lot of potential.
If Gordon can force his way onto the roster once again and this time contribute on a more consistent basis, it’s hardly out of the question to imagine this swing tackle experience becoming invaluable to his growth. If he can shine outside should his name be called, then the ceiling for Gordon goes way beyond a backup…especially if Vaitai’s development isn’t as rapid.
It was preseason that really showed the Eagles how much potential Gordon had as an offensive lineman last year, and it will be preseason this year that determines where on the depth chart he falls. Duty is calling Dillon Gordon…and with the support of Jason Peters, tutelage of Jeff Stoutland, and support of Frank Reich and Doug Pederson, we could well be waiting for Gordon to take that next step.
Jason Peters is going to have to pass the torch within the next few years, that much we know for sure. Whether it’s next year or two more from now, the 35-year old will retire as an Eagle and an all-time great. The question is, will he be handing off the rights to the throne to Dillon Gordon, meaning Lane Johnson can reign on the right hand side? Only time will tell.
Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke