Andre Dillard hasn’t seen much of Philadelphia yet – “I kinda came here and got straight to work,” he said — but thanks to the magic of social media, Dillard is getting a feel for the fan base.
“Most of ‘em roast my hairline, because I have my widow’s peak. Little do they know, I want that there,” Dillard said Friday, smiling as he shook his tight curls, including the one in the middle of his forehead. “They all think I’m oblivious, but I like it.”
The Eagles’ top draft pick had just completed his first day of rookie minicamp, which continues through the weekend, on the NovaCare practice fields.
“They all like to joke around. They’re all very passionate, happy for me to be here overall … It’s really fun to be a part of this culture,” he said.
Eventually, there will be quite a bit of weight on Dillard’s thick shoulders, as the presumed successor to nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters. Right now, Peters is healthy as he approaches his 16th NFL season at age 37, and Dillard is here to learn.
Early on in Friday’s drills, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland was standing over Dillard as the tackle took a three-point stance, something he never did in Washington State’s air-raid attack. Dillard seemed to find it comfortable enough.
“I can do that,” he affirmed.
Earlier, Eagles coach Doug Pederson said the team likes to cross-train all its offensive linemen, eventually, but he said Stoutland would hold off on doing that with Dillard, who has always played left tackle.
“Andre is different. We're just trying to get his feet wet with the playbook and get him moving around,” Pederson said. “At this time, we're just going to kind of keep him where he is at and let him play there.”
Dillard, listed at 6-5, 315, was a 240-pound high school prospect who didn’t start to think about the NFL until his second year at Washington State, after he’d added about 50 pounds. He savored signing his contract Thursday and walking out onto the practice fields Friday, wearing Michael Bennett’s old No. 77, a couple of weeks after the Eagles moved up in the first round from 25th to 22nd overall to draft him.
“It’s pretty surreal, but very real … It just feels really good to get back out on a football field again,” Dillard said. “Just really took a deep breath, just like, ‘Ah, I’m here. This is the next thing, this is the next step.’ More excited than anything. Just happy to be here.”
Dillard’s impression of rookie camp is that he and the other youngsters are getting "a few days of non-pads to not really kill us, I guess, but just to kind of get us going and understanding how things work.”
This was a more succinct version of how Pederson characterized the weekend. The full squad gathers for the first time on May 21, though that OTA is voluntary for veterans.
“It's exciting for us as coaches. No. 1, we get our draft picks in here. We get our undrafted guys. We get to see these tryout players. For us as coaches, it's the first time that we get to really put our sort of stamp on these players,” Pederson said.
“There is a level of patience you have to have, especially now. We're still in the offseason and still learning, still putting in our offense, defense, and special teams plans. You have to give them time to grow.
“I think as you get into training camp, then the patience starts to wear thin, and a little more thin, and a little more thin, but now it's all about execution, and by then they should understand what's going on. Right now it's all about patience. We want to help them succeed. We don't want anybody to fail. We want them all to do well.”
During the early part of Friday’s on-field work, reporters got to witness Stoutland introducing his teaching style – which might be described as loud and sarcastic – to a wide-eyed group of rookies.
“Stout’s an amazing teacher,” Dillard said. He added that there have been “little hiccups here and there for everybody, but we’re getting it down, and it’s a lot of fun, too.”
Dillard said that Stoutland “yells a lot … He cracks a lot of jokes. He’s just a funny, obnoxious guy, but he really gets his points across, he’s really passionate and he cares a lot about his players.”
Dillard did not seem overwhelmed.
“I like to learn things. It’s just fun to get acclimated to a new system,” he said.
The Eagles’ website recently showed Stoutland analyzing college film of Dillard, Stoutland frequently pointing out how precise Dillard’s footwork was, how he was almost always aligned correctly against the type of pass rush he was facing.
“I like to kind of perfect what I’m doing movement-wise, reading the defensive ends and whoever,” Dillard said.
He gave up one sack as a senior and has said it is something he still thinks about.
“If I see something that doesn’t look right with what I’m doing, I try my best to really fix it, watch tape of it, ask questions.”