Nick Sirianni has preached competition as perhaps the foundational pillar of his coaching ethos.
When the 2021 Eagles hit the practice field for the first time in training camp on July 28, the most marquee positional battle of all will be at left tackle.
It's there where Andre Dillard, the team’s 2019 first-round pick, will try to take back Jason Peters' heir-apparent status after a torn biceps derailed his 2020 season from Jordan Mailata, the developmental prospect turned potential starter after showing significant signs as the last resort last season.
Jeff Stoutland officially kicked off the competition back in the spring.
“There is definitely [a competition]," the Eagles' veteran offensive line coach said. “... I think anytime there is competition like that, and it is that close, it brings the best out of both players.
“Both players have to be on every day, all day because it is competition."
The winner will be about production not pedigree, according to Stoutland.
"Whoever is the most productive, whoever does the best, who has the best value going into the season will be the starter,” he said.
On the right side, there is no competition but there are crossed fingers when it comes to 31-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl selection Lane Johnson, arguably the best RT in the NFL when healthy.
Johnson is coming off a year in which he suffered through two ankle surgeries, which limited him to seven games after a tight-rope procedure designed to allow him to play did not work and required a reconstructive procedure on his deltoid ligament when the first plan didn’t work.
Johnson has already been deemed a full-go for camp.
“I feel normal running again,” Johnson said. “Really see no issues with [the ankle]. Don’t have to think about it anymore like I was. You go out and watch me move, I think I’ve answered questions. It was just one thing that kind of lingered and I never got it fixed.
“I felt like it would heal, but got it fixed so I’m just now not really thinking about it anymore. I’m starting to play.”
The silver lining of losing Dillard and Johnson a significant time a season ago was the reps younger developmental types like Mailata and Jack Driscoll got.
"It was huge, especially some of those situations they were put in," Johnson told SI.com’s Eagles Maven. "Limited reps but, I've said this before, there is nothing that can really simulate a game. The more times they got to play, the more games they were in. I think you saw gradual and steady progress.
"You look at Mailata and where he started and where he ended up, The season that he had. Driscoll, the same way. Steady improvement and that's what you want to see."
RT - Lane Johnson; Matt Pryor; Jack Driscoll; Casey Tucker
LT - Jordan Mailata; Andre Dillard; Le’Raven Clark; Brett Toth
WHAT’S CHANGED: Johnson and Dillard being back from injury is the main storyline but the Eagles brought in a potential swing tackle in Le’Raven Clark, who has experience with the new coaching staff in Indianapolis but is also coming off an Achilles’ injury in December so it’s unlikely he’ll be able to get into the mix until late in camp if not into the regular season.
If the 2021 Eagles are going to make any noise in what Jeffrey Lurie himself has coined a transitional year, any success will start with the offensive line and Johnson is a huge part of that.
Johnson seems reinvigorated on two fronts - his health and the need to prove 2020 was a blip on the radar.
“I’ll have two legs and be a different animal this year,” he said.
From there the disappointment of Doug Pederson’s final season and the shift toward a new coach and the lowered expectations that come with that seem to have motivated Johnson.
"Expectations are low," Johnson admitted when talking with SiriusXM NFL Radio. "You know, we're not expected to do much, so I feel like it's a lot easier to play when you have that card in your hand, so that's where we're at and, really, I think that's for a lot of teams in the NFC East.
So, here we come."
That kind of sentiment has been a pretty consistent theme for Johnson throughout the offseason.
“I think having a new coaching staff and having the record we had last year, there is a lot of emphasis, a lot of pressure, to do better than that," Johnson acknowledged. "That comes a lot from the players. We know where we stand.”
The O-Line room as a whole is facing a littles less upheaval than most of the other positions because the well-regarded Stoutland was retained.
"That was huge. I mean you had reports in the offseason that he might be going back to Alabama, you know this and that, but I was ecstatic that he stayed," Johnson said of his long-time position coach. "You know, put in a lot of work with him and my teammates over the past eight, nine years and really got to know him."
The most intriguing camp battle of all is Mailata vs. Dillard
During the three OTAs open to the media this spring, Mailata was playing with the first team after finishing the disappointing 2020 campaign as the starter due to historic attrition, which included a derailed plan in which Dillard was to step in to replace Peters at LT.
Stoutland said neither Mailata nor Dillard is ahead of the other right now and Mailata previously confirmed himself that his status at the top of the depth chart during media availability in the spring was just luck of the draw of those particular days.
"I still have to earn my place," Mailata said. "Like I said when I finished off last year, the last press conference, I’m still trying to prove to myself that I am a dominant left tackle in this league and not a rugby player anymore but in order for me to do that I have to keep progressing and challenging myself every day."
The tale of the tape favors Dillard when it comes to technique and fundamentals and Mailata when it comes to size and strength.
The goal moving forward is for Dillard to get stronger so he can anchor against top-tier bull-rushers while Mailata will be asked to become more consistent with his footwork so the flashes tied to his size, strength, and athleticism become more sustained.
"I'm a lot stronger than before I got hurt, I'll tell you that," Dillard told SI.com's Eagle Maven.
Stoutland offered up his own self-assuredness.
"I know what I have to do to help Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard look just like the other guys they are playing next to," Stoutalnd said, alluding to his more proven commodities of Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Johnson.
"... I expect that (LT) player to fit right in with the rest of those players, be accountable to all of the things that are going on, because when you watch the synchronization, you watch how synchronized the group is, I want the player to be just like that."
ROCKY: THE LONGSHOT
Matt Pryor has played a lot of football through his first three NFL seasons with the Eagles and has shown impressive versatility but he sure looks like the odd man out unless Howie Roseman decides to spin off the loser of the Dillard-Mailata battle in an effort to buttress another part of the roster. For that matter, Pryor himself could be on the move for a late-round pick because he’s still got value in an O-Line deficient league.
WHO STAYS ON THE 53?
Barring any trades you know Johnson, Mailata, Dillard, and Jack Driscoll are gimmes and it might come down to Clarke’s health for the final roster spot.
There is just too much depth for Brett Toth or Casey Tucker to make any noise for the final 53.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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.