Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks finally move George Fant to right tackle to compete with Germain Ifedi

Germain Ifedi (65) works with fellow tackle George Fant, left, during Seahawks training camp this month. Friday in the preseason game at Minnesota, those two will be competing for the starting job at right tackle.
Germain Ifedi (65) works with fellow tackle George Fant, left, during Seahawks training camp this month. Friday in the preseason game at Minnesota, those two will be competing for the starting job at right tackle. AP

Maybe the Seahawks heard you.

More likely, they’d seen enough of the pass-protection issues—and enough of George Fant’s return from reconstructive knee surgery last August to believe he’s now ready to compete at right tackle.

Fant, the former college basketball power forward who was the starting left tackle as an undrafted rookie in 2016, moved from left to right tackle for the first time Tuesday in practice. He took scrimmage plays there with the second-team offense in two sessions while struggling starter Germain Ifedi remained with the first-team offense.

The long-awaited move of Fant that Carroll and general manager John Schneider first mentioned in March comes almost four weeks after Seattle started training camp and 2 1/2 weeks before the season opener. That’s Sept. 9 at Denver.

“The comp is on,” Carroll said.

“George has had kind of a startling career, really, to come so far, so fast. There’s nothing that we’ve put in front of him that he didn’t handle. Even when you take a look at the rehab process (for the knee) that he went through, he just totally competed and attacked it and came back in great shape.

“So we are going to (do this). This has been the thought all along, to get him back moving again, feeling comfortable at his left side, with the thought of him getting over there and competing on the left side.

“Just another example of the competition that is on the roster.”

Seahawks punter Jon Ryan prepares to boot one in a preseason game against the Indianapolis Colt at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash., on Aug. 9, 2018. In the video, coach Pete Carroll talks about how valued Jon Ryan remains to the franchise.

J.R. Sweezy returned to practice for the first time in weeks following a sprained ankle, and was at left guard after Ethan Pocic instead of the right guard Sweezy has played his entire career. Rees Odhiambo, usually on the left side as a guard and sometimes tackle, got work at right guard. The starting right guard, D.J. Fluker, was out with a splint over the pinkie finger on his right hand he injured Saturday night in the preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Ifedi was a glaring problem in 2017, his first season at right tackle. The team’s 2016 first-round draft choice led the NFL in penalties. He had nine false starts, often trying to get a jump on snaps to reach faster edge pass rushers. He had eight flags for holding those rushers when he couldn’t sustain blocks on them.

Carroll has stated this preseason Ifedi must cut down on his penalties, and he has done that so far this month. Ifedi has not been penalized In seven offensive drives he and Seattle’s starting offense have played through two preseason games.

But Saturday night in the Seahawks’ exhibition loss at the Chargers, Los Angeles Pro Bowl defensive end Melvin Ingram repeatedly sped through and around Ifedi to quarterback Russell Wilson. One of those times, in the red zone in the first quarter, caused Wilson to run around and get sacked for a 2-yard loss that forced a field goal. Another time, Ifedi getting beaten forced Wilson to scramble around his missed block and throw into coverage in the end zone to Nick Vannett. That pass got knocked away to force another Seahawks field goal instead of touchdown.

That was partly why Seattle’s starters gained 228 yards in the first half but produced just two field goals in what became a 24-14 defeat.

“It was a good battle. He’s a helluva player,” Ifedi said after the game of Ingram. “There’s a couple (of plays) I wanted back. But I thought overall it was a good battle.

“There were a couple plays, but that’s what the preseason’s for, to work out the kinks or whatever. We’ll get it right, and we’ll fix it. Overall, I think it was a really good match-up, and I more than held me own out there.”

Ingram has 29 sacks the last three seasons. He is approaching the caliber of pass rusher that the Seahawks will face in the opener: Broncos All-Pro and Super Bowl MVP edge rusher Von Miller.

“He did some good stuff, and he got in trouble a couple of times on things,” Carroll said Tuesday of Ifedi against the Chargers and Ingram. “He’s cleaned up some things in his game that I’m happy about, and I’m hoping that will continue; I think it will. He went against a really good guy. Ingram got after him a little bit. He got after all of us a little bit; he played a really good football game.

“But he’s making progress. He’s competing like crazy. He’s learning the new stuff (from new offensive line coach Mike Solari’s more man-on-man, straight-ahead blocking schemes), and he’s picking it up.

“But he’s getting challenged, too.”

Ifedi was Seattle’s 31st-overall pick in the 2016 draft. The right tackle at Texas A&M debuted at right guard in his rookie season.

That same 2016 spring, Fant was the polar opposite of a first-round pick. Not only did he not get drafted, when Seattle signed him as a rookie free agent he had not started in a football game on an offensive line since he was playing for the Lincoln Heights Tigers when he was growing up in Cincinnati. That was in Pee Wee league. Months before the Seahawks signed him he thought he might be headed to Poland to play professional basketball.

Then Carroll and the Seahawks became enamored with Fant’s athleticism, size (6-feet-5, 322 pounds), basketball-quick feet and raw potential. In one of the most remarkable out-of-nowhere stories of that NFL season, Fant started 10 games to finish the 2016 season at left tackle. He would have started there last season, too, if not for the knee injury.

fant
Starting left tackle George Fant’s torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last August in a preseason game ended his 2017 season, and led to the Seahawks trading for veteran left tackle Duane Brown. Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com

“It’s been a long road,” Fant said upon returning to fully practicing this month. “It’s been hard. It was tough. I had good days, bad days. I’m just looking to come full circle.

“It’s just a blessing being out here.”

Fant was asked if there was ever a point while Seattle’s 2017 played on without him, with him grinding through lonely, seemingly endless range-of-motion drills and pain testing the knee with trainers, that he thought his recovery wasn’t going to work out. That his unlikely Seahawks career may be done.

“Yeah,” he said. “Multiple times.

“That’s what you go through. There are ups and downs through this whole thing. People kept telling me there were ups and downs, and I was telling them, ‘Aw, I’m not going to have any downs.’ But there’s just stuff that you don’t expect to happen that happens. But through it all, my wife, my kids and my family got me through it, kept me leveled. Kept pushing me to keep working hard.”

The Seahawks losing Fant is why they traded for veteran Duane Brown last October. Brown just signed a three-year contract extension and is entrenched as the starting left tackle. So Fant’s path to playing is blocked there.

But right tackle? The opportunity door just swung wide open.

Carroll said Ifedi “knows we think a lot of George Fant. He knows we have a high opinion of what he’s capable of doing.

“And we’ve thought this through,” Carroll said, adding Isaiah Battle is also in the competition at right tackle returning from a recent injury.

Of Fant in particular, Carroll said: “He’s ready to go.... We think he’s ready to compete at this spot. That was what we had in mind the whole time.”

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