Ray Roberts remembers his rookie season playing left tackle in the NFL, and how it reminded him of when he was little and his big sister tried to teach him to swim by throwing him into the deep end of the pool.
So the former Seahawks first-round pick of 1992 can sympathize with George Fant, and can offer some perspective on what the rookie has to do to stay afloat as left tackle for the Seahawks.
Except he can’t fully relate since Roberts was a first-round pick, the 10th player taken. Fant not only wasn’t drafted, he only played a year of football in college, and that was as a reserve tight end.
“From what I understand, this dude is a supreme athlete,” Roberts said. “But I can’t even compare it to my rookie season because I had played before. I guess if I had something to tell him from my experience, I’d say to just grab on and don’t let go.”
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Yes, it will continue to be a wild ride.
Fant is a 6-foot-5, 296-pound unicorn, who fought stratospheric odds to get where he is. The only other rookie regularly starting at left tackle in the league at this point is Detroit’s Taylor Decker, a first-round pick who started 42 games at Ohio State.
The only games Fant started at Western Kentucky were on the basketball court for four seasons, when he was an all-conference power forward. He took up football in his fifth year and spent most of his time as a reserve tight end (one catch, 7 yards).
Prospects for Fant fell somewhere between sure disaster and Disney movie, but he is in the starting lineup and clawing his way up the learning curve.
A larger topic is how the Seahawks ended up with three rotating tackles who are all free agents, none with a proven track record, on an offensive line that is the most heavily scrutinized unit on what is otherwise an elite roster.
It is easy to see what the Seahawks’ brass liked in Fant. On his pro day, he ran a 40 (4.83) and had a vertical leap (37 inches) that would have been easily the best of any offensive linemen at the NFL Combine.
The exception being, though, that those at the combine not only had played football, but had done so as offensive linemen — in many cases for a number of years against high-level competition.
It made Fant a long shot to land on the roster, but a pretty appealing project to keep around, maybe on the practice squad or as a reserve so he could ripen for a couple of years.
But the two guys the Seahawks signed from the NFL Tackle Temp Agency, J’Marcus Webb (cut) and Bradley Sowell (backing up at right tackle) failed to earn or sustain their roles in the starting unit.
When Sowell suffered a knee injury in the late October game at Arizona, Fant was thrust into a first-team role, and showed enough potential that he’s started the last eight games.
Head coach Pete Carroll concedes that he could not have envisioned Fant ending up in the starting unit. “Once we saw him on the field a little bit, we thought there was really the potential,” Carroll said. “The physical makeup is there, but you would still never think a guy could pull it off. He’s just a very special kid.”
Fant is an information sponge and a quick learner, saying his real “aha” moments weren’t in the regular season, but facing the likes of Seahawks defenders Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark during training camp.
Fant considers himself a perfectionist who is confident in his athleticism. “When I get emotional about it is when I make mistakes,” Fant said. “I’m behind in the sense of football intelligence, but I’m getting there. I think I’m progressing. I’ve taken a few steps backward, but I’m working on just getting better every game.”
Roberts was tossed into the deep end himself, starting 16 games on a 2-14 team in an AFC West that featured pass rushers such as Derrick Thomas, Leslie O’Neal, Howie Long and Greg Townsend.
“I had been pretty dominant in college, so coming into the league, I thought I’d be able to handle my business here, too,” Roberts said. “I wouldn’t say it was a total shock to the system, but it was a very eye-opening and humbling experience.”
Roberts said he has watched a lot of Fant’s games, and sees “the foundation of a guy who can play really good left tackle in the league, but I also see that it’s really, really early to have him out there playing.
“It’s natural of a rookie, but sometimes I see plays where he’s smooth and athletic and confident and sometimes when it’s like, ‘Uh-oh, look out Russ (Wilson).’ ”
As Roberts looked back on how he was able to turn himself into a left tackle who played 127 NFL games in nine seasons, he can pinpoint one overriding quality.
“I had a lot of pride in what I was doing,” Roberts said. “I made the adjustments I had to make: Get myself in better shape, work on my craft … do the things I had to do to make the difference.”
In other words, he just grabbed on and didn’t let go.