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Seahawks Breakdown: How much better is George Fant than he was 2 years ago?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The right tackle job is up for grabs and George Fant is getting a shot to compete for it. He played more snaps than any other member of the Seattle Seahawks’ offense in the team’s third preseason game vs. the Vikings and Germain Ifedi’s continued struggles have opened a window for a new starter on the right side of the line. Ifedi was better against the Vikings, but it’s hard to ignore the concerning signs this preseason. It’s not merely that he’s played awfully, it’s the process behind those results: he appears to be regressing, not improving.

Losing rookie Jamarco Jones was a gut-punch. The fifth-round pick would have competed for the starter spot. He’s already more polished than either Ifedi or Fant, but an ankle injury seems likely to rule him for most of, if not all 2018. Fant it is then – unless the team finds some outside help. It seems likely – through injuries or performance – that Ifedi and Fant will both see play time at right tackle this season.

So, what can Fant offer at right tackle? Let’s jump into the Film Room.

Let’s get this out the way up front: how tough is the switch from the left to the right side, or vice versa?

“It’s like trying to wipe your ass with the other hand,” Dolphins guard Josh Sitton said this preseason about his from left to right guard. Shifting spots at guard or tackle or any spot on the offensive line is tough. The space you occupy is different; fronts look different; footwork can be different; and all that muscle memory you’ve built up over a career needs to be re-trained.

You still need the same skills. Sure, there are still some guys who preach that the left tackle is the premier position – that’s it’s the pass blocking spot and the right tackle is more of the run-game plodder. Poppycock. That’s 1980’s thinking. The top edge-rushers in the league now line-up over the right tackle: Von Miller, Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Bradley Chubb. That’s just the AFC West!

Here’s the other thing: edge-rushers move. They hunt for matchups the way an offense would by moving its tight end. You need two guys with the same skill-set in 2018. Lane Johnson is now better than Jason Peters, but the Eagles still line-up Johnson on the right side – and they paid him like a traditional lefty.

Left tackles were typically paid more because of the “blindside” element (there’s also the idea that they played the majority of youth snaps at left tackle because of their talent. Therefore, the most talented players happen to lineup on the left side. But that’s a discussion for another day). In reality, quarterbacks spend most of their time in the shotgun now, so the blindside isn’t so “blind” anymore.

Plus, teams figured out — thanks to Air-Raid coaches — that there was no need to have run plays that went to a dominant side. They could build run plans around what the respective tackles did well. You don’t need counter-trey to be run to the right and the left, for instance. Match your rushing concepts to the tools of your players.

Which brings us back to Fant, who will flip from the left side to the right.

Fant never played on the offensive line prior to entering the league as an undrafted free agent. The Seahawks, as they’re wont to do, saw an ex-basketball player with a bunch of unteachable traits and decided to teach him one of the most technical positions in all of sports.

It was a disaster.

Fant struggled mightily in his rookie year. He flashed in the run game but was borderline unplayable in pass protection. He conceded 5+ pressures in five games, conceding a total of 45 pressures in ten games. That’s apocalyptic even by Seattle’s standards. He made a compelling argument for being the very worst starter anywhere in the league.

Here’s the thing, though: Fant showed signs of improvement towards the seasons end. There were plenty of moments in which it was evident he hadn’t played before (that’s still wild to type as they were playing playoff games), but he showed glints of some potential.

Then Fant missed all of 2017 with an ACL tear, wiping out a vital year of progress.

He’s back for 2018. He looks the same athlete. There’s been more positive development, but he’s still far from a starter-caliber player. Seattle doesn’t have the luxury of quibbling. It doesn’t have any starter-caliber players at right tackle.

Fant is an odd duckling. His process, mechanically speaking, is often better in the run-game than in pass protection. Yet, results wise, he’s shown more in pass pro than he has blocking for the ground game, getting by on instincts, long arms and slick feet.

Fant’s a much more explosive athlete moving forwards than backwards. He has basketball hops and jumps out of his stance with the kind of athleticism usually reserved for a dunk contest. Watch how fast he marauds up to the second-level:

That’s not normal. Ignore what happens when he gets up there for now, we know he’s struggled technically. (Get that ass down!)

It’s the same in close quarters. Fant is able to get off the ball at a speed edge-defenders are not used to. The “fit” may not always be perfect or good or even adequate, but he gets there, clamping his long levers onto defenders and playing with decent body position, angling the defender the way he needs (#74, left tackle):

The reach block is the most difficult for any offensive lineman. Having a guy who can get out of his stance that quick, cover so much ground, and lock arms on a defender from what seems like lightyears away, isn’t a skill to be scoffed at.

It isn’t the same when he sinks into a pass set. He’s not a particularly explosive leaper. It takes an awful lot to move that huge frame. Back in 2016, he was downright slow and often inefficient with his movements:

Above, he did a nice job of using his hands and recovering, stewarding the Falcons pass-rusher around the corner. He was fortunate, though. He lined up opposite a pocket-compressing power-rusher, not a dip-and-rip maven. Anyone who can sink their hips and get down low gives Fant a world of trouble:

He’s more natural on 45-degree sets than vertical ones:

To counter the issue, he either needs to play with a more stable base, sink lower, or get out of his stance and to his set point ASA-and-P. He doesn’t. That lack of natural flexibility is a concern against counter moves, too. Smart pass-rushers embarrassed Fant a couple of years ago by using a jab step to get him off-balance, before swooping back inside. He couldn’t handle a quality spin move:

Against fast fronts, Seattle had to routinely check-and-release its backs and tight ends, taking one of its eligible receivers out of quick-timing designs. Fant couldn’t be left on an island.

When he wins in pass pro, it’s with his hands. He’s more nuanced there than you would anticipate for a guy who hasn’t played all that much. He’s late with his hands, showing good patience. His radar isn’t great; he routinely grabs the outside of the shoulder pads, begging for a holding call. But he shows the smarts to wait for a pass-rusher to commit, before re-anchoring and shooting his hand underneath their pads:

I’m sure that play was scored as a pressure to Fant, but he did a good enough job. Russell Wilson moved into the pressure. Fant lost early, then recovered.

When he loses, it tends to be in the initial exchange. Light feet and smart hands keep him in the rep, though. This is as good as it gets:

One note of intrigue: Fant, like Ifedi, has switched up his stance. Look at 2016:

Now from this preseason:

Note how square he was in 2016. Now, he trails that backfoot. There are two possible explanations for both Fant and Ifedi switching:

A) New O-line coach Mike Solari teaches a particular technique.

B) They’re copying Duane Brown.

Ifedi has expressed an admiration for Brown. The stances Ifedi and Fant are employing are eerily similar to the former All-Pro. Ifedi hasn’t exactly implemented it well. As I detail here, he lacks balance.

Fant, by contrast, seems more balanced and fluid in his sets. He is transitioning his weight better. Solari is working on Fant’s base: hitting those set points quicker, keeping his base wide, and sinking into his set – particularly vertically -- rather than playing upright:

For Fant, that’s as important as it gets: He lacks functional strength. He was routinely run-over in 2016. He peaked forward, leaving himself unstable. He panicked if someone shot out of their stance quicker than he did. And many, many guys were flat-out stronger.

Ziggy Ansah embarrassed Fant in the 2016 playoffs. He ran right through him:

Fant was too stiff and upright. When Ansah dropped his pads, Fant was unable or unwilling to sink and meet him at his level:

If you’re not going to dip or re-anchor against counter moves, you at least have to be able to drop anchor and absorb speed-to-power blows.

Fant can’t. At least he hasn’t yet. It’s the most concerning thing about his pro prospects. Players don’t magically get stronger, even if they learn to do a better job at drawing power from the ground up.

Things have looked more encouraging in 2018. There’s no doubt the new stance and smoother transitions are aiding him. He does a nicer job of maintaining a wide base, allowing him to play with better leverage and absorb more contact:

It isn’t something he’s going to have down before the start of the season. Players have continued to run through him if everything isn’t synced up in time. He just isn’t an overly strong dude.

Watch him here, lining up at right tackle this time:

Once again, he’s too upright. He’s done a brilliant job thus far of sliding his feet and holding his base throughout the preseason, albeit against second and third stringers. Above, he muddled his feet right as he was about to absorb contact, launching him into the path of the quarterback.

It’s an issue in the run game, too. He doesn’t have heavy hands. He wins with angles and leverage, if he wins at all. Often, he does his best work when he’s left to go to work sealing a blocker 1-on-1, where he can explode, flip his hips, and shepherd an edge-defender towards the sideline.

Ask him to do much else and he struggles. He does a poor job working combination blocks. He isn’t a good puller. He doesn’t have enough pop in his hands to drive someone off the ball and create an avenue all by himself. He does a poor job “fitting” the defender when he has to take his first step inwards.

Those are a lot of little things. When you add them together they become a big problem:

He wants to play a latch-and-drive game. When he’s overmatched physically, that can lead to ugly moments where he can’t stick on a block – holding calls are inevitable:

What’s interesting is Fant has picked up the nuances of pass protection fairly quickly. He doesn’t get fooled by simple stunts and twists. The Falcons targeted him in the 2016 playoffs with their usual cacophony of gap exchanges. For the most part, Fant ate them up:

He’s happy to go hunting for work when none is prescribed:

It’s also no mean feat to go from a player who loses matchups instantly, to one who’s developed his hands to a point where he can recover from an early setback.

The run game is different, though. There, he really, really struggles with the subtleties; sometimes the biggies. He often appears lost. He’s just as likely to stumble over his own feet than he is to successfully cutdown the backside of an outside-zone run:

There has been zero sign of progress in 2018. His rare athleticism climbing up to the second level is a nice bonus. He excels on certain concepts. Yet he continues to show a mindboggling lack of awareness:

Above, he has to know the Chargers linebacker will squeeze the option play. His job is to climb up and seal the Will – shaping his body and twisting the linebacker towards the middle of the field. This doesn’t call for superhuman strength. It’s all about angles and body positioning. It’s in his wheelhouse.

Fant flubbed the block. He slowed his feet. The linebacker was able to hit him with a stutter-step, freeing him to hit the ‘Hawks quarterback unopposed. It’s not good enough. There are far too many moments when he gets up to the second-level and doesn’t seem to know his assignment. It’s jarring.

Among all the bad, there’s enough good to continue to tease. You can spin it one of two ways: either he had never played the position before and there are flashes of potential or he could only improve. It’s not like it could be much worse.

Re-watching Fant this past week, I was struck by how much more consistent he was down the stretch of 2016 than I remembered. When he was bad, he was stunningly, can’t-believe-this-dude-is-in-the-league bad. But there was also plenty of good during those final few games of the season. Something appeared to click. Take the nameplate off his back and you’d think it was a competent, below league-average player.

That’s all the Seahawks need at the right tackle spot right now. A couple tick below league-average opposite Duane Brown isn’t too shabby.

Pete Carroll and company have had a better look at Fant’s progress through camp. They waited until the third week of preseason to open up the competition despite Ifedi’s struggles. That in and of itself tells you a lot. Perhaps the knee injury slowed him through the early going.

Fant has shown enough to keep me intrigued. In terms of raw talent, Ifedi is ahead. But Fant is playing better and improving as Week 1 approaches. Ultimately, I’d be stunned if we didn’t see them both.