The Eagles “always said we would stay in touch” with free agent left tackle Jason Peters, Doug Pederson said Tuesday, “and we have.”
But Pederson said that Andre Dillard has "taken command of that role."
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The head coach spoke to reporters via Zoom about trying to run the team’s voluntary offseason schedule remotely, instead of with players and coaches gathered at the NovaCare complex. He gave a strong endorsement of Dillard, the Eagles’ 2019 first-round draft pick, while also keeping the door slightly open for the return of Peters, the nine-time Pro Bowl tackle who still wants to play at age 38.
“Andre Dillard was the player we drafted to be that left tackle for us. ... I have a ton of confidence in Andre Dillard and playing that left tackle spot,” Pederson said.
Dillard, who started three games at left tackle and one at right tackle as a rookie, has not been on the field with his linemates this offseason. Asked if a delay in starting training camp could make the team think harder about bringing back Peters, Pederson said he is preparing as if training camp will start on time in late July, but he acknowledged that if summer on-field preparation is affected, “there’s gonna be slight setbacks. You’re going to be slower than you would be under normal, ideal situations."
Dillard, 6-foot-5, 315, showed the athleticism that had him pegged higher in the draft than the Eagles got him last year at No. 22 overall, but he also got overpowered at times.
“We know and he understands that strength is a big part of playing offensive line, but that’s something that can be worked on in the offseason. That’s what he’s doing right now,” Pederson said.
“You look at his skill set and what he brings to our offense and what he brings to the Philadelphia Eagles, it fits right in line with everything that [offensive line coach and running game coordinator Jeff Stoutland] talks about, teaches, preaches about, and what we are as an offense,” Pederson said. “I look forward to getting him back, and getting him in the huddle, on the grass, our quarterback has a ton of confidence in him, and that’s how we’re proceeding.”
Pederson said he would have to put Dillard and some other players in “tough situations” quickly when on-field work resumes, to test their readiness.
“I’ve got to set up tough practices in training camp. I’ve got to set up opportunities for them to be successful, but yet work through maybe some failure early in camp, and that’s just part of the learning curve,” Pederson said.
NFL teams are in the middle of the nine-week spring program, in which Pederson said every Eagle has participated, at least a little. Players spend half the allotted time conferring with strength and conditioning personnel and half with their coaches. The players have to send videos of their workouts back to the strength coaches for critiques, and coaches test players on their knowledge of the concepts being taught.
Pederson said “probably the hardest thing is just getting a gauge of where the guys are. ... If we don’t ask enough questions, it’s hard to get a gauge. That’s probably the biggest challenge, moving forward.”
Pederson said not being able to get on the field at all in the spring will make training camp crucial. “It’s going to take all of the five-to-six-week training camp that we have to be prepared.”
Pederson was asked what might happen if, during camp, a player were to contract COVID-19.
“All the precautions, all the necessary testing, all the medical data we have in front of us ... we would be able to handle someone if they came down ill,” Pederson said. He then noted that such a situation would mean other players and coaches would have been exposed, and what would happen then is unknown.
One of Pederson’s catchwords for the offseason has been “trust.” He said he has to trust the players to get themselves ready for when they are allowed to return.
When the Eagles overhauled the offensive staff early in the offseason, before it was apparent that prep time would be affected by the pandemic, it seemed Pederson might want to seriously tweak his scheme. On Tuesday, Pederson lauded the contributions of newcomers such as senior offensive assistant Rich Scangarello, passing game analyst Andrew Breiner, and wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, working remotely. But he downplayed expectations for change.
“I don’t think from the naked eye you’re going to see a ton of different concepts, different ideas, different things. ... What you’re going to see ... is subtleties within what we do as an offense -- protections, the play-action game, screens, even the run game,” Pederson said. “Those are all things that we’re going to work on in training camp. But I think overall, you are not going to see big, wholesale changes. We didn’t overhaul the entire offense, and keep in mind, this offense won a world championship a couple seasons ago, so we are just finding ways to make it better at this time.”
Pederson was asked about the quarterbacking situation behind Carson Wentz. The Eagles surprised most everyone by drafting former Alabama and Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts in the second round this year, 53rd overall. But with teams unable to take the field, Hurts will report to training camp, whenever that happens, never having taken a practice snap. Pederson said he expects veteran Nate Sudfeld to be Wentz’s primary backup, at least initially.
“Football teams are going to have to rely on their veteran players, and Nate is one of those guys for us. He’s been on our roster the last [three] seasons and he knows exactly what we are doing,” Pederson said. "I have a ton of confidence in Nate to become the backup quarterback. Nothing is ever handed to anybody. ... I always try to create competition at every position, and quarterback ... is not exempt from that.
"But I fully expect Nate to come in and be aggressive and do the things that he’s capable of doing, and become the backup to Carson. And then with Jalen, Jalen is about, right now, just learning and picking up our system ... there’s a lot to learn from the quarterback position.
“So, are we going to take it a little bit slower, maybe, with him until he grasps the offense? You might have to. What I like about it is always the unknown, and the unknown is how well a guy, I think, can progress. And then once we get him on the grass, put him through drills, put him through practices, then we see exactly what these guys are all about.”
Pederson said that in the virtual sessions, “Jalen is doing an outstanding job of picking up the offense, spitting it back to Press [Taylor, the passing game coordinator and QB coach] and understanding what we are trying to get done, and we go that route with him right now.”
Teams have different approaches to the quarantined spring work. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton isn’t running spring meetings; he told players on his veteran, contending team that he would see them this summer. Pederson said he wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.