From the time Andre Dillard arrived to Philadelphia in April, he began to understand the Legend of Jason Peters.
Because Peters is more than a 37-year-old football player. He's more than a future Hall of Famer. Inside the NovaCare Complex, he's more of a revered Paul Bunyan-like character.
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And Dillard couldn't wait to meet him.
Before I ever met him, he seemed like a mythical creature," Dillard said with a smile to NBC Sports Philadelphia last week. "Through all of rookie minicamp and OTAs and all this stuff, everybody would be talking about him, coaches and players included. And I just never saw him until mandatory minicamp showed up. I didn't really think he was a real person to be honest with you.
Not only is Peters a real person, he's a real person who is already helping to teach the guy everyone expects to one day replace him. Often during training camp practices, between reps, Peters is seen taking Dillard to the side and teaching him technique, offering tips, trying to make him a better player.
Head coach Doug Pederson noted that it's not Peters' job to coach Dillard - they have coaches - but mentioned it's a great sign to see that Peters has taken Dillard "under his wing." Sometimes a tip from a veteran means just as much as a directive from a coach.
This isn't the first time Dillard has listened to an older teammate either. One of the first times was early in his career at Woodinville High School, when he was learning from two-year starter Devin Dietrich, who went on the play for the University of Montana. Dillard's high school offensive line coach Mike Monan, who was with a trio of Dillard's HS coaches at practice this week, said he always stressed to his veteran players to teach the young guys and watched how much it helped a young Dillard. That's why he knows how much learning from Peters can help him now.
"A huge opportunity for him to learn," Monan said to NBC Sports Philadelphia on Wednesday. "Andre's a sponge. He's just going to collect all the information he can and put that into his mind and crank it out. He lives and breathes to be the best offensive lineman he can. He's done that for me since way back when and he's continued it to get to here. Working with Peters is awesome for him."
For Peters, some of this is giving back what he once received. He said he had a "big list" of teammates who helped him when he was a young player in Buffalo, naming Jonas Jennings and Mike Williams. Peters has always been willing to help younger players, but over the last few years, he's become a little more vocal and a little more proactive, often pulling guys to the side like he's been doing with Dillard.
It might seem strange that Peters is essentially teaching the guy who is expected to replace him, but Peters doesn't think it's odd. He knows the situation.
"We're just renting," Peters said. "You're just renting a spot and when they get ready to get you out of there, they draft somebody high, whether it's a year out, two years out. They're gonna put him in there at some point."
That's the kind of wisdom of a 37-year-old veteran can offer a 23-year-old rookie.
This student-teacher relationship works two ways. Sometimes, Dillard will go to Peters with a question. Other times, Peters (and Lane Johnson too) will seek out Dillard if they see an area on the field or on tape where a technique tweak could help.
What's the best bit of advice Dillard has gotten from Peters?
It's not even something technical.
"He told me you really have to train your mind and body," Dillard said. "Always do things full speed, even if it's little things. So when you get in those live situations, you'll be ready for that as opposed to having to speed up from what you normally do. Really just treat everything professionally and give it your best."
While it seems like Peters might not be ready to retire even after this season, it also seems like the Eagles have their succession plan in place. They traded up to No. 22 to get Dillard and if he progresses the way they hope, he should be the left tackle of the future.
That means he would continue an impressive tradition at left tackle in Philadelphia. Tra Thomas held down that post from 1998-2008 and Peters took over the next season. If Dillard works out, we're talking about three decades of strong left tackle play with three guys.
That isn't lost on Dillard either.
"It means the world to me that I've been given the opportunity to do it," Dillard said. "Now it's up to me to fulfill that task and get ready for that spot. It's just a really exciting time for me."
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