PHILADELPHIA – Eagles' spring workouts sort of felt like a trailer for an epic movie hitting screens this summer, or, in this case, the team’s practice fields, with Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard cast in the starring roles.
The two offensive linemen took turns getting first-team reps at left tackle these past three weeks and their battle to be the starter at that position should be box office gold when training camp fires up probably in late July.
“I think they’re both firing on all cylinders,” said Isaac Seumalo, who had a sneak-peak at the competition since he lines up at left guard. “It’ll be fun to keep watching both of them, to (see) how they improve these next two months and go into training camp and battle it out.”
Dillard certainly sounded like a new man on Thursday, and he conceded that he is exactly that, after spending a full season, just his second professional season, recovering from a torn biceps suffered last August.
He said, “I think I’ve matured a lot” and feels “completely different” in terms of knowing the plays, polishing his technique, and just having the right mindset to handle different moments on and off the field.
The biggest change, he said, is his confidence.
“My rookie year I wasn’t as confident, naturally,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve just put so much work into better myself as a player and a person, so the main reason I feel like a completely different person aside from my huge strength boost is my confidence.”
Dillard owes it all to last summer when he could have sulked over his injury then sunk deeper into a shell when Mailata went out and played well, well enough to create this competition.
After all, Dillard was taken in the first round of the 2019 draft to be the team’s left tackle of the future.
“I do feel that they (still) view it that way, but I have to earn it,” said Dillard. “I can’t just be given it. I’m all about this competition. I got a fire in me, I have a chip in my shoulder, and I’m really serious about this, so bring it all on.”
Mailata intends, too, though the irony is the two are good friends off the field.
“I feel like he’s going 100 percent at practice, and I feel like I have to go 100, even in the gym,” said Mailata, who played 15 games and made 10 starts as the Eagles’ was ravaged by injury in 2020.
“We’re always competing. We know there’s a competition going on and we’re just going to keep going at it until judgment day comes and they choose one.”
Dillard said his injury made him sees things in a different light and put some things in perspective.
“It kind of lit this huge fire in me, a different kind of fire that I felt before because something like this has never happened to me,” he said.
Dillard got back into the weight as quickly as he could and, perhaps more importantly, and he is said he is stronger than he’s ever been.
He also closed down all his social media accounts.
Getting off social media wasn’t about not wanting to see what was being said about him, with many fans already writing off 2019’s first-round pick as a bust and others already handing the starting job to Mailata.
Dillard, now 25, said he would spend too much time on social media. He’d start scrolling through his feeds and timelines then 30 minutes would turn into an hour or more.
“You’re like dang, I just kind of wasted that, I didn’t get anything out of that,” he said. “There’s good and bad on the internet, but I’d rather not just be with it. I spent too much time on it.
“It’s definitely helped me. It feels like I live a more simple life. I get up, go to work, study, all that stuff, relax, read. Not once do I flip open my phone and just read stuff.”
With all that extra time on his hands, Dillard spent a lot of time reading self-help books, researching the injury he suffered last summer, learning how to heal, studying nutrition and sleep benefits, and trying to make himself a better player and person.
It has helped make him physically stronger, too.
“When you have (something) taken away from you, you realize how important it is to you and how serious you are about it,” he said. “As soon as I got hurt, the second I got hurt and they told me how long I’d be out, in my head, I was like, 2021 starts now for me.”
If Mailata wins the competition, Dillard will attack the season the same way he did after his injury.
“If I’m not the starter, I would just do everything that I can to earn it back,” he said. “I’m not going to just back down if the job isn’t given to me, I’m going to keep fighting for what I want.”
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.