JOHN CLAYTON

Clayton: George Fant’s development at left tackle could lead him back into the Seahawks’ starting lineup

Jun 7, 2017, 2:25 PM
George Fant made 10 starts at left tackle as an undrafted rookie with Seattle last season. He's now...
George Fant made 10 starts at left tackle as an undrafted rookie with Seattle last season. He's now about 25 pounds heavier as he attempts to hang onto that starting job in 2017. (AP)
(AP)

RENTON – Coaches will tell you how tough it is to develop young offensive linemen.

Spread and Air-Raid offenses in college don’t require blockers to put one hand on the ground and fire out at defensive players, which leaves them unprepared for the pro game. What used to be a position of longevity in the NFL has become a hit-or-miss proposition.

That’s why George Fant’s story is so incredible. With virtually no football experience in college, Fant started 10 games last year at left tackle as an undrafted rookie for the Seahawks. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked 78th out of 78 graded tackles in the NFL, which was understandable. But for a rookie left tackle who never played the position before and barely played the game at all to be among those 78 – even at the very bottom – is amazing.

Fant is running with the first team at left tackle during Seahawks Organized Team Activities. Head coach Pete Carroll, offensive-line Tom Cable and others believe he will not only win the job but become a quality blocker.

There have been plenty of success stories with undrafted tackles through years. Jason Peters, for instance, was a tight end at Arkansas. He switched to left tackle in Buffalo and became one of the best blind-side blockers in the league. The Steelers hit on undrafted left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a bronze star Army captain who ranked as the 14th-best left tackle in the league last year, per PFF.

Toward the end of Fant’s press conference on Tuesday, I asked how many plays he had on the football field during his lone season of football at Western Kentucky, where he played basketball for four years. He said the number was seven or eight, excluding special teams, and that those plays were either at tight end or on the defensive line.

He became Seattle’s starter midway through last season with only a handful of snaps as a college football player.

“I just think it was kind of the right place at the right time,” Fant said. “From being here in Seattle to just making the team to working and trying to understand the game a little bit more and more, then something happened, and it was next man up. They put the trust in me and they believed in me. And they’re still believing in me now.”

Offensive linemen from spread systems in college have to go through a technique reboot when they reach the NFL. They have to break old habits formed by not having played with a hand on the ground. But Fant didn’t have any bad habits to break. He’s starting from scratch as a blocker.

Henderson: Notes, observations from Seahawks’ Tuesday OTA

Remember when Russell Wilson was learning on the job as a rookie in 2012? In one of his first few practices, he threw a long fade pass to the wrong shoulder of a receiver. Coaches asked him why he hadn’t thrown to the other shoulder, away from the cornerback. Wilson said he never had that route in college. He never repeated that mistake.

In the same vein, Fant is learning at each step of the way and growing at a very fast pace. He talks about adding tools to his toolbox. And he’s bulked up this offseason after playing at 296 pounds last year. Even though he was tall and strong, he could be victimized by the bull-rush.

Fant gained about 25 pounds by lifting and eating his mom’s cooking. It’s amazing how well he moves with the extra weight. In the offensive line’s mirror drills, Fant’s feet are so smooth and he has so much more range than the other blockers. Athletically, he’s a freak.

“What I was taught here is the only thing I know,” Fant said. “I don’t know a different way than the way they taught me. Now, I’m just adding little tools to that toolkit.”

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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Clayton: George Fant’s development at left tackle could lead him back into the Seahawks’ starting lineup