When Andre Dillard tore his biceps muscle nearly 10 months ago, there was a feeling of there goes another wasted draft pick. The 2019 first-rounder struggled in four starts during his rookie year, then missed the entire 2020 campaign.
Jordan Mailata — the Australian rugby star turned NFL player — eventually assumed Dillard’s post at left tackle last year and proved he could handle the pressure. The 346-pounder allowed 32 total quarterback pressures but was a top-15 tackle from Week 11 to Week 17 (via Pro Football Focus). Interestingly enough, pressure is a word that seemed to bother Dillard on and off the field prior to his season-ending injury.
But the third-year left tackle out of Washington State found peace in the offseason by ditching his social media accounts and reading self-help books. He also attacked the weight room, improved his diet, and changed his sleeping patterns. Dillard declared that he’s a “completely different person” heading into training camp. He’s 100% recovered from the biceps injury.
“I definitely learned a lot about myself and how much the game really means to me and how serious I am about this,” Dillard told reporters on Thursday. “Losing a season to an injury definitely makes you see it in a different perspective and in a different light. It kind of lit this huge fire in me, a different kind of fire than I felt before because something like this [injury] has never happened to me.”
Dillard was drafted 22nd overall to be Philly’s left tackle of the future, the heir apparent to Jason Peters. Well, “The Bodyguard” is no longer on the roster and Dillard now faces the gargantuan task of unseating Mailata. It will be an open competition for the starting job — every position will be contested, including quarterback — and the 25-year-old embraces the challenge.
“Oh, I welcome all competition, I never shy away from it,” Dillard said. “I’m glad that it’s happening, and it makes sense that it’s happening. You know, Jordan came in and filled in last year, he played most of the season and he did really well so it only makes sense for the coaches to give it a little competition.”
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West Coaster Ditches Social Media Accounts
There had been a growing narrative of Dillard not being tough enough for Philly’s mean streets. He spent his formative years on the West Coast and went to college at Washington State. Dillard often got into fights at his first NFL training camp, some of them ended in tears and he once described the anguish of living in the pressure cooker of a major East Coast city. Perhaps that is all water under the bridge.
“I feel like I’ve matured a lot,” Dillard said. “I honestly feel like I’m a different person from one first year, I’m completely different.”
Dillard sounded like a changed man when addressing the media during spring OTAs. He claimed to be more mature, more focused. He doesn’t spend hours on his phone scrolling through the negative comments on Instagram or Twitter. Or, God forbid, responding to them. Dillard deleted all his social media accounts as he threw that wasted energy back into football.
“A lot of people, including myself, we just spend like 30 minutes just sitting there scrolling through stuff you find interesting, you find interesting videos and all that stuff, next thing you know a whole hour goes by and you’re like ‘Dang, I just wasted that [time], I didn’t get anything out of that.’ You don’t want to read into it too much, just general negativity in the world, social media in general. I’ve watched a lot of documentaries on it.”
Mailata’s Mindset Hasn’t Changed Either
The man Dillard will be competing against for the starting left tackle job hasn’t changed his mindset either. Mailata was a raw prospect when the Eagles took a seventh-round flier on him in 2018. He had never played organized football before, but his physical ability jumped off the tape on a rugby highlight video that went viral. Four years later, Mailata looks every bit the part of a franchise left tackle.
“My mantra is to get better every day, and I said that from the day I stepped in until the day I leave,” Mailata told reporters on Thursday. “That’s my number one thing to do every single day, to get one-percent better every day. Hard work always takes care of hard work and if I focus on that, the rest will take care of itself.”
You could make a case that Mailata earned the left tackle job with his heady play in 2020. He should enter training camp as the starter. However, he and Dillard have been splitting the first-team reps during spring OTAs and will continue to do so until the coaches make a final decision. And the affable Aussie wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think every year it’s always been a competition, that’s how I viewed it,” Mailata said. “There’s always competition every year, and I think that Coach [Sirianni] coming in and saying that for all position groups is a no-brainer. I still got to earn my place. I’m still trying to prove to myself that I am a dominant left tackle in this league and not a rugby player anymore.”