The Eagles have a true position battle brewing at left tackle this summer between Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard.
The two young offensive linemen have been splitting reps with the first team during the last two weeks of OTAs and will likely continue in training camp later this summer. Dillard and Mailata each seem comfortable with the dynamic, even though both would have arguments to be resistant.
Mailata, 24, has a significant upper hand in on-field production, while Dillard, 25, has the pedigree advantage as a first-round pick who hasn’t gotten an extended chance to see the field yet.
Dillard’s stock has steadily fallen since the Eagles took him with the 22nd pick in the 2019 NFL draft. He was taken to be the heir apparent to Jason Peters. The idea was that he’d sit behind the all-time great left tackle for a season. But Peters suffered a knee injury that year, and Dillard was put into the starting lineup with mediocre results.
Once Peters returned, and Lane Johnson was sidelined, Dillard started a game at right tackle and had to be benched at halftime due to poor play.
He went into last year’s training camp as the presumptive starter at left tackle but suffered a season-ending biceps injury halfway through camp. Dillard still believes the team views him as its left tackle of the future but acknowledged he has to prove he’s capable of the role this offseason.
“I do feel that they view it that way, but I have to earn it,” Dillard said. " I can’t just be given it. I’m all about this competition. I got a fire in me. I got a chip on my shoulder, and I’m really serious about this. So bring it all on.”
Dillard conceded that he struggled with confidence during his rookie season but said the last two years have made him a “completely different person,” one who has blocked out the negativity on social media, added strength, and has a newfound self-confidence.
“I really think the biggest thing for me is confidence,” he said. “My rookie year, I wasn’t as confident, naturally. Over the years, I’ve just put so much work in to better myself as a player and a person. The main reason I feel like a completely different person, aside from my huge strength boost, is my confidence.”
Adding strength will be important to Dillard’s success in the league. Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said last season that Dillard “needed” to get stronger to fix the problems he had during his rookie season. The indication going into last year’s preseason was that he had made significant progress in that area.
Even though he was injured, Dillard said he’s even stronger than he was at this time last year, adding that he was able to do safety-bar squats a handful of weeks after he got hurt.
“Every day was leg day,” Dillard said. “I’ve developed a lot of habits in terms of research and nutrition, sleep benefits, all types of stuff. Self-help books, just really pushing myself in everything I did, involving everything around ball and just improving.”
In Dillard’s absence, Mailata flashed potential to be a quality starting tackle in the league. He started 10 games because of several injuries along the offensive line and earned a 70.3 offensive grade from Pro Football Focus, which was the third-highest among the team’s offensive linemen, behind Johnson and Nate Herbig.
As a 6-foot-8, 346-pound rugby convert, Mailata has a combination of strength and athleticism that makes him intriguing, even if he was just a seventh-round pick in 2018. The Australia native hadn’t played in an actual football game at any level before last season and held up against a handful of solid edge rushers, including T.J. Watt, in his first exposure to game action.
Still, Mailata said he doesn’t believe he’s earned the job.
“I’m not really interested in, based on my play in games last year, have I earned it,” Mailata said. “It’s not about who earned it. It’s about who is the best man for the job, and whether that’s me or Dillard, so be it.”