Surrounded by his family, Wazzu’s offensive line coach and some high school coaches, Andre Dillard sat inside the green room amidst one of the wildest first-rounds in recent Draft memory. Some viewed him as the top tackle in the draft, others, the Eagles included, had him graded as a top-10 player. But when his phone rang 22 picks into proceedings, he was shocked at who was on the other end.
“When I first got the call, I saw it was from Philadelphia and I was like, “Whoa, wait what?” Dillard said in a press conference after being drafted. “I was kind of confused and then I answered it with the speed of sound. And then I actually thought the call was being dropped because the voice of whoever called me kept cutting in and out and I couldn’t hear them for about ten seconds and I was freaking out like, “Is this call going to fail?” And then I finally hear a voice, but he had already told me what his name was and I didn’t hear it, so I didn’t know who called me initially and then he passed the phone around the room to Coach Stoutland and Coach Pederson. So it was pretty cool.”
At 6’5, 315 lbs, it’s easy to see why Dillard left the Eagles coaching staff purring at the Senior Bowl. But when you factor in his 39 starts at left tackle for Washington State, the 1 sack allowed on close to 700 pass blocking snaps last year, and his 4.96 40-yard dash time, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow.
The Eagles were aggressive in going up to get their guy and who can blame them? The draft fell in the most unpredictable of ways and it presented an opportunity for the Eagles to draft the heir to the Left Tackle throne, currently ruled by future Hall of Famer, Jason Peters. But while his path to a starting role is clear, Dillard is insistent on absorbing as much information as he can from a tackle he spent years looking up to.
“It’s just a huge honor to be on the same team as a great veteran player like that.” Dillard explained. “I’m looking forward to competing with him, getting better with him and learning a lot from him and everybody else there.”
“It is just really an honor to be in this position. Whatever the team thinks will be best for me in order to help them, I am more than happy to do it. Whatever they have in front of me, I will do it. I am ready to work, and I am excited.”
It certainly seems as though Dillard is humbled, patient, and just ready to help the team out in whatever capacity they need…which is just as well. As of right now, the Eagles still have a serviceable backup in Halapoulivaati Vaitai and of course fan-favorite, Jordan Mailata. It’s an interesting picture, but there’s no such thing as too much depth…especially when it’s packed with potential.
The offensive tackle landscape is one that’s subject to change heavily in the next 12 months. Jason Peters will be 38-years old and has come off the back of two injury-plagued seasons, while questions surrounding Big V’s contract will arise. The Eagles have one more year before they have to cross that bridge, and how they do so will likely depend on how far along in his development, Jordan Mailata is. The immovable object in what could be a whirlwind here though, is a player who was thought to be out of reach for the Eagles.
“We’re excited to get Andre.” Doug Pederson said after the selection. “This guy is – he’s a special player, and as Howie mentioned, he’s got a great opportunity to learn from one of the best left tackles in our game. But you know, where we had him on our board, yeah, I mean, as it got closer, you just try to make some eye contact and the conversation picks up a little bit, and we’re just excited and thrilled to get him and get him in here and get him going.”
Dillard may end up redshirting his rookie year, but in doing so, he’ll be learning from one of the best to ever do it, as well as developing constantly under Jeff Stoutland. The Eagles have not only reinforced the trenches for the next five years, but they’ve found a player who sounds completely bought into that process.