RENTON Thanks, Mom!
And thank you, Walter Jones.
That’s what the still-new, still-growing left tackle is saying now, on the eve of his second full year playing competitive football.
That’s what the Seahawks will be saying this coming season, if Fant grows into the job like he’s growing into his 6-foot-5 basketball body. Should Fant’s offseason growth translate to the regular season, it will eliminate the biggest issue on Seattle’s most problematic unit.
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Fant has gained 70 pounds in less than two years. He says he’s up to 320 pounds now, “321, something like that,” he said. That’s 24 more than the team’s listed weight for him, about that much more than the former Western Kentucky power forward weighed at the start of this offseason in January.
“My mom lives with me now. She’s brought that good Southern food for me,” Fant said this week following Seattle’s fifth practice of organized team activities, the fifth consecutive one in which he was the starting left tackle.
“She likes to make steak. There’s a little grill she’s got. She likes steaks. Potatoes. Macaroni.
“I was watching my portions of food before. Now, I’m just kind of eatin’!”
He then chuckled. He’s in perhaps the five percent of American adults owning a free license and clear conscience to chow down.
Kim Fant moved this winter from George’s hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky, to Seattle and in with her son and daughter-in-law, former Western Kentucky basketball star Chastity Gooch.
George’s and Chastity’s son, Jayden, was born shortly before the tryout at WKU in March 2016 that wowed the Seahawks into signing him as an undrafted rookie free agent last spring. Two months ago, Chastity delivered their second son.
Two babies under 18 months old under the same roof was one too many for just one mom. So George’s mother, herself a former Western Kentucky basketball player (the former Kim Norman played for WKU in 1990 and ‘91), came to live with them in Seattle this offseason.
“My wife needs the help,” Fant said.
The result: Fant has gone from 250 pounds in 2015 playing basketball for WKU to 290 pounds during last season -- when he so surprised the Seahawks by becoming their raw, starting left tackle protecting $87.6 million quarterback Russell Wilson’s blind side that general manager John Schneider exclaimed “Holy cow!” over the development -- to 320 pounds now. He’s noticeably bulkier in the shoulders, chest and torso. Yet he has appeared in OTA drills to have retained his basketball quickness and athleticism that attracted the Seahawks to him 50-plus pounds ago.
OK, so now he’s bigger. Is he better than he was in his understandably rocky debut season?
That’s where Jones comes in.
The Seahawks Hall-of-Fame left tackle from a decade ago comes around the team from time to time, including for preseason workshops with players. At one of those drop-ins last year, in the middle of the 2016 season, Fant went up to Jones and asked for advice on how to play not only what was a new position for him, but a new sport.
What ice breaker did the undrafted rookie college basketball player use to approach one of the best left tackle in the history of the game?
“Me being the undrafted rookie and the new guy in the system, I was just like, swallow your pride and go ask this great legacy person, ‘What do you see, what do you think?’” Fant said. “So that’s what I did.
“Just taking what he says and soaking it in, adding it to my game. It’s a lot of things.”
Coach Pete Carroll is calling Fant a completely different player this spring from last season. Carroll said Fant was already going to make an “incredible jump” in learning and development from year one to this season. No wonder. The ceiling was limitless, by nature. Last season was the first time Fant had started a football game on the interior line since Pee Wee league in Cincinnati, where he and his mother lived through George’s sixth-grade year.
“We were very surprised that he was able to even compete, you know?” Carroll said in early March at the NFL combine. “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.”
Now, his changed body and comfort with his place on the Seahawks and in the sport seem to be changing Seattle’s plans for 2017.
At the start of this offseason, Carroll said the Seahawks wouldn’t mind giving Fant something of a redshirt season in 2017, to take a step back and really learn his position, the entire line’s scheme and life in the NFL, for the long term.
That was when the Seahawks were in pursuit of Pro Bowl free-agent right guard T.J. Lang from Green Bay. The team’s plan was to move Germain Ifedi, Seattle’s top draft choice last year who started his entire rookie season at right guard, to right tackle and have Lang play right guard.
Schneider thought he had Lang ready to sign a contract after hosting him in Seattle for two days in early March. Then Lang surprised everyone and chose to sign with his hometown Detroit Lions instead.
Without Lang, Mark Glowinski, last year’s left guard, has been the starting right guard in OTAs. Ifedi stayed on track and has moved to right tackle, the spot Garry Gilliam started for two season before he signed with San Francisco in March. The same weekend Seattle hosted then missed on Lang, Schneider signed free-agent Luke Joeckel to a one-year contract worth $7 million guaranteed.
Joeckel, 25, entered the league as the second-overall pick by Jacksonville --- and as a franchise left tackle. But Schneider has said he liked Joeckel more at left guard with the Jaguars; that’s where he played for five games last season before a season-ending knee injury and surgery in October.
In OTAs, Joeckel has been working position drills at both left guard and left tackle, in that order, and in team drills at left guard.
All that has resulted in Fant remaining the first-team left tackle. For now, anyway.
Now, with experience of nine starts to end last regular season plus both playoff games, with Jones’ mentoring and Mom’s Southern cooking, Fant is a far different number 74 in blue than he was just five months ago in the Seahawks’ playoff loss at Atlanta.
“It feels really different,” he said.
“I was actually laughing about it today: I can actually understand what is going on around me. To be able to make the play, make the calls, whatever I need to adjust and know something’s coming, or Russ knows something’s coming, or the backs... it’s just so much better to know what you are doing and not have a doubt in your mind.”