The most talked-about Seahawk right now was a mere prospect at this time last year.
But he was nowhere near the NFL combine.
On the second day of this year’s league scouting combine Thursday, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of George Fant: “He is our left tackle.”
Fant was Seattle’s 2016 undrafted rookie from Western Kentucky. He startled everyone — in good ways and bad — when he became the starter and Wilson’s blindside protector in late October.
“We were very surprised that he was able to even compete, you know?” Carroll said Thursday morning inside the Indiana Convention Center. “It was a shock that he could compete. But he showed quite early on that he was physically capable. And then he was a beautiful competitor, as well. Had a great mentality for going for it. He wasn’t overwhelmed by it. Then he did a terrific job taking it as far as he did.
“He was under the gun a bunch. That was as hard as you can get for a young guy. That’s just the way it worked out with the injury situation and his opportunity to take advantage of it. But he should grow more than anybody can possibly grow. He has played less than anybody (before the NFL), so hopefully he’ll make a big jump for us.”
Fant is part of the push for continuity Carroll says he wants in 2017 on his young offensive line. The unit’s inconsistency last season often stunted the offense and did so again in the divisional round of January’s playoffs.
Garry Gilliam is part of that continuity, too.
Carroll also said Thursday the Seahawks want to retain their starting right tackle of the past two seasons. The undrafted former Penn State tight end is due to become a restricted free agent next week.
The coach also said this when asked about his offensive line: “Free agency is coming up next week. And we have a chance to do some things there. We’ll see what’s available to us — very aggressively and very actively.”
The reason the Seahawks need to be aggressive and active in free agency is drafting college linemen has increasingly become a crapshoot. And with $26 million in cap space, far more than at this time last offseason, Seattle can be relatively aggressive in free agency.
Fewer and fewer college linemen put their hands on the ground in a three-point stance. In many of college football’s spread offenses, blockers stand up before the snap into a two-point stance, and spend most plays parrying away pass rushers with their hands or walling them off with their bodies for quick-hitting running plays.
Getting low and drive blocking defenders into the ground on runs — and running is still the basis of Carroll’s offense — has become passé.
The Seahawks must decide by next Thursday whether to tender an offer to Gilliam. Carroll made it sound as if they will do so, rather than let him become a free agent.
SEAHAWKS TRYING TO KEEP WILLSON
Carroll said off the podium the team intends to re-sign No. 2 tight end Luke Willson. The team’s fourth-round draft choice in 2013, who wasn’t invited to the combine that year out of Rice, is due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 9. It’s his first time on the open market, and he’s intending to test the market to see what kind of raise he can get from the $1.67 million in base salary he earned in 2016.
Willson had 15 catches last season, but underwent knee surgery and missed five games.
“Sure,” Carroll said when asked whether the Seahawks want Willson back to play next to and behind Jimmy Graham. “We love Luke.”
Carroll confirmed what became known last month, that defensive assistant Rocky Seto is leaving coaching to join the ministry.
Carroll said co-linebackers coach Lofa Tatupu, a former Seahawks linebacker in the early 2000s, is also leaving football to tend to family matters. John Glenn gets a promotion from being Seattle’s quality-control coach on defense since 2014 to be the next linebackers coach with returning coach Michael Barrow.
Carroll confirmed Chad Morton is the new running backs coach. He is replacing original Seahawks player Sherman Smith, who at 64 is retiring with the encouragement, Smith has said, of Carroll.
And Carroll confirmed Clint Hurtt is arriving from the Chicago Bears to be Seattle’s new assistant defensive line coach.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle