There are two huge questions about the Eagles’ offensive line: Andre Dillard at left tackle and Jason Peters at right guard.
Normally, reporters would have talked to both players by now, Dillard back during spring work, and Peters right after he reported to the NovaCare Complex this week. It’s hard to avoid reporters when they can walk up to you as you leave the practice field. It’s a lot easier when reporters only see players on Zoom calls arranged by the team.
- Carson Wentz says he feels safe at Eagles training camp, but he knows certainty is hard to find right now
- What to expect of Eagles’ 2020 defense: Darius Slay to match up against best receiver at times, a position battle at cornerback and an exciting young linebacker group
- Will Carson Wentz embrace mentorship role with Jalen Hurts? Early signs are encouraging | Jeff McLane
So we don’t know yet what Dillard thinks about moving into the spot occupied by a future Hall of Famer who has anchored the Eagles’ line since 2009 – with that future Hall of Famer lining up three spots to Dillard’s right. Peters presumably would be ready to slide back into his old spot if Dillard doesn’t protect Carson Wentz’s blind side to the coaching staff’s expectations.
And we don’t know in any depth what Peters thinks of lining up at guard for the first time at age 38, after not getting much action in free agency, until the team that had just bid him farewell lost All-Pro right guard Brandon Brooks to an Achilles tear.
But we aren’t short of opinions from the people around them, who might be in the best position to judge how these two gambles are going to work.
Dillard, the 2019 first-round pick, has a booster in center Jason Kelce, who trained with him some this offseason. Kelce saw Dillard’s ups and downs in four starts last season, three of them at left tackle. Dillard was a disaster in his one start at right tackle. On the left, he showed good quickness but also was overpowered more than a few times.
“He’s had a really good offseason; he’s put on some weight, put on some strength,” Kelce said recently. “Quite frankly, his only weakness as a player last year was bullrushes and stuff like that. If he can improve on that, at the very least, we have a good tackle.”
Kelce said much of what Dillard needed to work on was technique, to “not absorb so much, not just punching, but throwing in a few jump sets here and there.”
Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland spoke with reporters via Zoom on Friday. Stoutland said that in reviewing film cut-ups from 2019, he realized that, “Andre’s in a lot of these. … He played  plays. You see the change of direction, you see the foot and body quickness.
“I absolutely have identified the areas with him that we need to improve on. … I think he has absolutely improved in the strength department. And he needed to.”
Neither Kelce nor Stoutland doubts that Peters can plug in at right guard, even at 38, though there will be adjustments.
“This could really help us,” Stoutland said. “He knows me, he knows how I coach, he knows our terminology – [at left tackle] you have to know what the guard’s doing every play; you play next to him. … I think he brings a lot of value to the organization and to our offense.”
Stoutland wanted to be sure reporters were aware of his high regard for Brooks, “an amazing guy,” who went from high-energy shoulder rehab right after the season to high-energy Achilles rehab last month. Given that Brooks is out for the season, Stoutland said that discussions with head coach Doug Pederson, general manager Howie Roseman, and owner Jeffrey Lurie came up with Peters as the best solution.
“Brandon Brooks is the best player at that position in the entire league, in my opinion,” Stoutland said. “It’s a tremendous loss for us. … But we have to have some answers now. We thought about this thoroughly. Coach Pederson, Howie, Mr. Lurie, we’ve talked through this. And I absolutely, totally believe” that they found the right answer.
Stoutland said that Peters is always challenging himself, that he once encountered Peters doing some snapping, and Peters explained that he might extend his career as a center or long-snapper.
“I think that it will be great for Jason Peters. It’s just another challenge for him,” Stoutland said.
“I’m looking forward to it, seeing how he does in going through relearning the offense through another lens,” Kelce said. “Obviously, guard’s a lot different than tackle. … Two different positions, two different stances, you’re playing against different types of players.”
Left tackles have to move nimbly to stay in front of sleek pass rushers; Peters, listed at 6-foot-4, 328 pounds (which might have been his playing weight at some point deep in the past) is used to being much more powerful than the men he faces. That will be much less true at guard, matched up against defensive tackles. He also will do less one-on-one blocking.
“There’s less of a demand of athleticism, but there’s a big demand of communication. There’s a big demand of passing things off; you’re passing off a lot more games. You have a lot more blitzes at guard than at tackle,” Kelce said.
Stoutland suggested that the difference in assignments might be beneficial to a 38-year old.
“The biggest adjustment, to me, is going to be, he’s not having to block a guy in giant space. The player’s going to be right in front of him,” Stoutland said. He added that in terms of technique, Peters might have to learn “surfacing some of the blocks, the run fits, the way I teach them, being on the right side.”
Before Peters returned, the Eagles were looking at 2018 sixth-round pick Matt Pryor as their right guard. Pryor has just 79 offensive snaps under his belt, all of them accrued last season. Stoutland likes Pryor, especially likes his versatility, but asking him to step in for Brooks over 16 games would have been a big ask.
Stoutland said that right now, Pryor “has made the biggest jump” of any of the young O-linemen. Pryor would seem to be the first choice to replace Halapoulivaati Vaitai as the sub who can play guard or tackle on either side.
“I look at him as though he is a starter, just as I looked at Vaitai last year,” Stoutland said.
Fans are always curious about Jordan Mailata, the former rugby player from Australia who still hasn’t played in a football game that counts, as we enter Year 3 of his attempt to make the NFL. Right now, Mailata is on the COVID-19 restricted list, meaning he either tested positive or was in close contact with someone who has the virus.
Once that gets resolved, is Mailata, still just 23, finally ready to carve out a role?
“I can’t answer that question right now, until I see him get on the field – I can say this: in the virtual meetings, he was a completely different guy,” Stoutland said. He said Mailata’s confidence in what he was being asked to analyze was much greater.
“We’re requiring these guys to know a lot, to be able to convert blocking schemes and calls. Completely different in the meeting,” Stoutland said.
“Now, will that carry over to the field? Every morning when I come here, I pray that will happen. Do I think that will happen? Absolutely. But I can’t guarantee that. We’re going to find out, though. That’s what this is all about. And if it does carry over … we’re going to be in good shape.”