If Eagles first-round pick Andre Dillard seems to have a look on his face that resembles bewilderment, it is for a reason.
The 6-foot-5, 310-pounder appears to be still saying to himself, “How did I get here?” after being chosen with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2019 draft.
At his first news conference as an Eagle, Dillard said he has looked back to when he was a kid growing up in Woodinville, Washington and struggling to learn the game that is now his profession.
“It never even crossed my mind that I would even be like a college player,” Dillard said. “You know, so it’s just – thinking about the journey that I’ve had up to this point, it really is something special.”
Dillard was asked about a recent quote where he referred to himself as a “wuss” when he was in grade school.
“Well, by wuss, I meant, you know, when I first played in eighth and ninth grade, I had no idea what I was doing,” Dillard said. “I had never hit a person before, so I didn’t – I was unsure if that was OK and it’s like, yeah, you have a helmet on. Just go out there and – yeah, over the years of progressively getting better at the game. I just fell in love with it more and more and just put more of my body and soul into it, and so, definitely I’ve gotten a lot more aggressive over the years.”
Dillard’s father Mitch played tight end at Washington State in the late ‘80s. The younger Dillard was asked if it difficult following in his father’s footsteps.
“At first, because I didn’t like football at first when I first got on the field,” he said. “But, you know, I always just stuck to it. I love my dad a lot and I trusted his words a lot, so.”
Dillard was asked if his father ever pushed him into playing football.
“In a way. Not necessarily push, but he was more of encouraging,” Dillard said. “He was always supportive of what I did in my life. But if I did ever feel like giving up on something, you know, he would kind of step in and be like, ‘Hey, you know, you don’t want to live life with any regrets.’ That’s kind of where I got that finish-what-you-started thing.”
Dillard said he grew to love the sport of football; but were there times he thought about quitting?
“Before I got to high school? All the time, yeah,” Dillard said. “It’s really discouraging when you come in late, all your friends have been playing the game since they were in third grade and I’m in eighth grade and they all kind of know what’s going on and I have no idea. It’s kind of scary. It’s scary like that. So you — it’s hard to want to keep going but something inside me just told me to keep going.”
Dillard followed his father’s advice and didn’t quit. He listened to his coaches as he adjusted to the top level of high school then college football.
Dillard was unassuming all the way, but at some point he had to realize he had developed into an NFL first-round talent, right?
“Kind of,” said Dillard, still an unassuming 23-year-old. “I didn’t start thinking about the NFL until maybe midway through college. And then that’s when my coaches were kind of like, ‘Hey, you know, these scouts are coming through asking about you,’ and I was kind of surprised. I was like, ‘Are you sure it was me?’ But that gave me some confidence, and then as the words started coming in more and more about NFL this, scouts this, it kind of just clicked in my head like, ‘Hey, you know, I can do this,’ and I started comparing myself to NFL players or just players that I played with that are in the NFL now, like Joe Dahl with Detroit and Cole Madison with Green Bay. I’m pretty good friends with Austin Corbett at the Browns. So, I just kind of compared myself to those players and I was like, ‘You know what, I can be as good as them and play at that level, too.’ ”
With the uncertainty of Jason Peters’ ability to hold down the left tackle spot because of lingering injuries, and the disappointment of the play of Halapoulivaati Vaitai as his backup last year, it was not surprising the Birds targeted an elite college tackle.
Eagles super scout Joe Douglas talked about the process of getting to know Dillard as he grew from an unknown player to a star.
“Yeah, well, actually our senior director of college scouting, Anthony Patch, he lives pretty close to Washington State,” said Douglas, who has helped build two Super Bowl champion rosters (Eagles, Ravens). “He did a great job, and our west coast area scout, Ryan Myers – those two guys did a phenomenal job of going in there and getting to know Andre. We were very comfortable. We got a chance to spend a lot of time with Andre in our Senior Bowl interview. He had a great week, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him.”
Dillard is supposed to be a backup in 2019. That remains to be seen. The Eagles have their eye on another Super Bowl run. To do that, Carson Wentz must stay upright and healthy.
To do that, the offensive line must be stout and as complete as possible. Dillard is talented and versatile. The Birds believe he can swing over to guard if need be.
Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks may not be ready to go at the start of the season as he recovers from a torn Achilles suffered in the NFC Divisional Round playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints in January. The idea of his 2018 backup Matt Pryor starting the first few games of the season while Brooks finishes his rehab does not seem very appealing when your franchise quarterback is also coming back from a significant injury.
Look for Dillard to play. Dillard would not answer the question on whether he is attracted to the idea of standing on the sidelines watching Peters play.
“Right now, I’m just kind of here meeting everybody, showing me the ropes around the place right now,” Dillard said. “Whatever they need me to do, I’m here, ready to do it and ready to work.”
The Eagles may need him sooner than later. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii