If you’ve been paying close attention to the recent reports out of training camp, you may have noticed the common theme. Rookie left tackle, Andre Dillard has been really getting the best out of several defensive players. Defensive end Derek Barnett had to be pulled away from the first-round pick during a scuffle recently and Shareef Miller followed suit shortly after, provoking Dillard which led to future hall of famer, Jason Peters, to intervene.
According to reports after Miller took a swipe at Dillard, Peters yelled onto the field saying, “Come on. We’re playing football, man.” The Eagles coaches have pulled Dillard aside in both instances. After the first scuffle, Eagles GM Howie Roseman and Head Coach Doug Pederson both spoke to Dillard which led to revealing a very emotional moment for the rookie. As for what was said, no one will know outside of the locker room but Coach Pederson did respond towards the matter by stating, “Young players, I mean, there’s pressure to play.” He went on by saying “You think about Carson in his first year, and there’s pressure to play. [Dillard is] doing an outstanding job. It’s a tough sport, without getting into a ton of detail. I just think that he’s so passionate about what he does and how he plays, and he wants to be perfect.”
Pederson also mentioned, “He wants to be right. He doesn’t want to make mistakes. I just reassured him after practice, he’s been doing an excellent job and playing really well. So there’s really nothing to worry about.”
The pressure is on for Dillard. The team jumped in front of the Texans in the draft to pick Dillard 22nd overall. He’s the proclaimed heir to the throne at left tackle, a position that’s currently held by one the game’s best of all time. Speaking of the future Hall of Fame tackle, Peters’ approach to the young rookie has revealed something deeper about the current state of the offensive line.
Three years ago, during the transition of Doug Pederson, Lane Johnson signed a huge deal for an offensive lineman at the time. The Eagles paid him top tier left tackle money and his expectation was that as well, that he would be covering the team’s blindside. Back then Johnson stated, “that’s what they drafted me for. Obviously, Jason Peters is one of the best tackles of all time, one of them, him and Walter Jones, in my opinion. Having him here, he’s taught me so much and I’m just going to continue to play [right tackle] until that time comes.” Unfortunately for Lane, Coach Pederson had other plans.
The team needed Lane Johnson on the right side to go against the likes of Von Miller, Khalil Mack, and other top edge rushers. There became much-needed importance for keeping Lane Johnson on the right side. The Eagles brass continued to find ways in keeping Peters happy and at left tackle. Peters’ health hasn’t been on his side, he suffered a torn ACL in 2017 and failed to stay in games during 2018.
The climate on for the O-Line is different now. The future is being developed while the best is still on the front line. There’s a deeper brotherhood and culture around this line. It went from Lane trying to take Peters’ spot to Lane staking his claim on the right side while the team continues to develop Jordan Mailata. Will Mailata be just as good as Lane, No one knows. I’m sure the coaching staff has a clue. There’s a reason that they moved Vaitai to guard while just flipping the young project to the right side. Mailata is only 22-years old, while Johnson is still in the prime of his career at 29-years old. The Eagles need a backup swing tackle they can rely on, Big V was hard to trust even after the Super Bowl run.
Moving in from the tackle spot, the guards are tightly secured. After signing a contract extension for $16 million during the offseason, Isaac Seumalo has quietly solidified himself as the starting Left Guard. A player that has gained the trust of the coaching staff after the weird precedents of Stefen Wisniewski last season. As for Brandon Brooks, there’s no telling if he’ll be the same dominant guard he was before the Achilles injury but if he is, then that’s another solid starter.
Now for the center position, there is no better center in the league than Jason Kelce. The only scary thought is the possibility of Kelce retiring soon which he did mention during the offseason. Even with that possibility, the Eagles seem confident that Seumalo can move in and take over at any point.
The team is in amazing shape when it comes to their offensive line and it’s all a testament to the front office. Their build first from the trenches philosophy has paid off big time. Outside the five starters, the team has Dillard, who looks ready to play, the project of Mailata and Vaitai who may find his place at guard once in for all. As for the likes of Matt Pryor, he’s had a rough start to the preseason but is hoping to rebound. The team may be forced to decide between him and Mailata and many feel they already know who they’ll pick.
One thing is for sure, the growth of this line was all possible because of the will to keep Peters around. Peters is in a position to be not only a mentor but the standard for what the team needs. They needed him to give them his all so they could build around him and help Lane Johnson see the need of him on the right side. The teams top priority is to protect Wentz and they’re now in the position to do so for the next 5-10 years.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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