'21 Training Camp Pre: New Birds Left Tackle Is ...
[Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a series of stories from Andrew DiCecco and Geoff Mosher previewing the Philadelphia Eagles as they head into training camp July 27. This story answers the question: Who'll win the left tackle competition?]
For the next few days, Mosher and DiCecco will be projecting winners of the main job battles at Eagles camp. In this story, we'll predict the winner of the left tackle spot between Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard. Here's how they see it:
Geoff Mosher's pick
Zebras, as the adage goes, can't shed their stripes. We're about to find out Andre Dillard is a zebra, or perhaps a chameleon.
Dillard presented himself the right way this offseason. He talked about mental growth to match the obvious physical growth. He talked about cutting through the proverbial scar tissue that developed as fans and media came down critically on the 2019 first-round pick after a rocky rookie season followed by an injury-lost sophomore year – along with the actual rehab from a torn biceps that changed his everyday approach to his position. Dillard insisted that fans will see a more physical, meaner, and more determined version of himself this summer as he battles with upstart discovery Jordan Mailata to be the starting left tackle. If he's right, Dillard will be a tough knockout for Mailata. He already has the dancing-bear feet and the master pass protection moves. Adding a mean streak and toughness for run blocking and for bull rushers can only help mold Dillard into a more complete prospect. But if the bark is worse than his bite, Dillard doesn't stand a chance, and we'll know the zebra couldn't shed his stripes. The guess here is that Dillard showcases an improved version of himself but not enough to unseat Maialta, who is also still raw and still honing his craft after making major strides in 2020. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has taken a liking to his project lineman from Australia, who had never played a single snap of American football when the Eagles drafted him in the seventh round of the 2018 draft. And when you're in Stout's good graces, membership has its privileges. Get your popcorn ready, because this should be a fight to the finish. But in the end, look for Mailata to come out on top.
Andrew DiCecco's pick
The anticipated training camp battle between Andre Dillard and Jordan Mailata takes center stage in eight days. On the surface, the competition appears evenly matched across a number of categories.
Though Dillard has underwhelmed in his 16-game sample size as a rookie and is coming off a biceps injury that robbed him of a crucial sophomore season, the former first-round pick finally looks the part and has said all the right things this offseason.
While the 25-year-old has battled tentativeness, confidence woes, and a season-ending injury through his first two seasons, Dillard conveyed a newfound poise and maturity to go along with a filled-out, 6-foot-5, 315-pound frame, in his offseason media availability.
The Washington State product has draft pedigree and a largely untapped plethora of skills working in his favor. The team would like nothing more than seeing its former first-rounder prove them right on the major investment by staving off an ascending Jordan Mailata.
Sometimes, it just takes some players longer than others to find their footing at the pro level. Perhaps Dillard, following a season of rehabbing, adding strength, and ironing-out deficiencies, will be ready to make the monumental leap in his third season.
Working against Dillard, however, is the fact that Mailata possesses the physical attributes of a perennial All Pro and has momentum on his side.
Before becoming the 233rd overall draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Mailata had never played a down of American football. In his previous life, the monstrous lineman was a standout rugby player for the South Sydney Rabbitohs. As most teams do in the latter stages on Day 3, they Eagles drafted Mailata based on athletic traits and potential. However, even the Eagles couldn’t have envisioned Mailata’s surge this early into his career.
Appearing in his first NFL games last season, the third-year lineman registered 10 starts at left tackle, showcasing vastly superior power, fluidity, footwork, and tenacity than Dillard had ever exhibited in his full slate of games in 2019. The 6-foot-8, 346-pound Mailata not only boasts an infinitely higher ceiling but also just turned 24, compared to Dillard, who will be 26 in October. When you factor age, progression, and upside, the positional outlook becomes more clear.
If Dillard loses traction at any point in camp, it could inspire the Eagles to explore a late-summer trade centered around the polarizing left tackle, perhaps with an eye toward boosting the secondary.
With all things virtually equal as the battle royale of training camp nears, recency bias prevails. The inherent athleticism, immense upside, and continuous momentum of Jordan Mailata might be too much to overcome.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com and Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherNFL) is is co-host of the "Inside the Birds" podcast and Senior staff writer/editor for InsideTheBirds.com. Listen to the latest "Inside The Birds" podcast from Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan here:
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