Eagles rookie Andre Dillard will get his moment on Sunday — under the lights in a division rivalry game against the Dallas Cowboys.
With starting left tackle and future Hall of Famer Jason Peters “week-to-week” with a “more extensive” knee injury sustained in last Sunday’s game, Dillard is expected to step in and step up in a game that will decide first place in the NFC East.
But no pressure.
Or at least, Doug Pederson said Friday, the head coach doesn’t want Dillard to let the pressure weigh him down mentally and impede his ability to protect Carson Wentz’s blindside.
“You don’t want to clutter his mind,” Pederson said. “You want him to be as free as he can. You want him to play to his ability. We as coaches can help him, obviously, with play call, play design.”
But, “Andre’s going to be fine," Pederson said. “He’s looking forward to the opportunity if he gets a chance to start."
Speaking to reporters for the first time this week, Dillard echoed that casual confidence in the locker room Friday.
“I’m very ready,” he said. “I prepare every week as if I’m going to play, and I’m just doing that again this week. Whatever happens, happens.”
The 22nd pick of the first round, Dillard called his 47 snaps Sunday “a good learning experience, getting your feet wet and preparing for the competition and the game.”
Dillard, who had previously logged only 12 snaps at left tackle, came in after Peters tweaked a knee in the second quarter of the Eagles’ 38-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Going up against Vikings three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen, Dillard had an efficient enough outing. He showed some promise, particularly as a run blocker, but he struggled with technique and timing, difficulties Pederson said earlier this week he attributed to being “a young player in that atmosphere.”
After watching the film, Dillard said he was pleased with his quickness off the snap and his spatial awareness but knows he has adjustments to make, too.
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Washington State product has turned to teammates, including Peters, to help him improve.
The 37-year-old Peters “has been a great teacher, mentor, big-brother figure for me since I got here,” Dillard said. “I learned so much as a player just from being around him, talking to him all the time, picking his brain here and there, just a lot of useful things as a player and as a person.”
Pederson has noticed Peters’ and Dillard’s frequent conversations, particularly the last two weeks.
"He’s coaching up Andre,” Pederson said, “and what a great resource to have right there by your side. All-Pro, someone’s who a future Hall of Fame left tackle, who can really give you some insight. … Jason’s the guy that’s been out there playing, and he understands what it takes.”
Right tackle Lane Johnson understands, too, from personal experience. He got his first start at left tackle, also in Dallas, when he filled in for an injured Peters in November 2015.
What advice does he give Dillard?
“I told him to just worry about getting off the snap count, and other than that, stay low,” Johnson said. “Everything we do as offensive linemen dictates the rush, so if a guy over-sets a defensive man, he’s going to come under.”
“If he doesn’t kick back enough, he’s going to get rushed around the edge,” he said. “Everything the defensive end does is based off what we present him. Getting off the snap count and staying low, more often than not, you’re going to be in a good place.”
Right guard Brandon Brooks and center Jason Kelce have also voiced confidence in Dillard, acknowledging Wednesday it takes time to get the technique down and adjust to the speed of the game when transitioning from college to the pros.
In practice, Johnson said he’s seen Dillard zeroing in on mistakes he made last week.
“The more experience he gets, the better he’s going to be. That’s how it was with me. The more time I played, the more I improved,” Johnson said. “Athletically, he can do it all. It’s really about learning and growing at this point.”
Dillard will have plenty of opportunities to grow this week going up against Cowboys ninth-year defensive end Robert Quinn, a relentless pass rusher who has 74 career sacks, including five this season. Dillard said he welcomes the challenge.