Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, Eric Fisher is the sole overall No. 1 pick the Chiefs have had the chance to take — though 50 years ago they fared well enough by choosing a fellow named Buck Buchanan with the first choice in the AFL version.
For that matter, since the NFL draft began in 1936, Fisher is just the sixth exclusively offensive lineman plucked in the marquee spot.
Combine all that with the fact that the 2013 draft was the first for the Chiefs’ new brass and will have a substantial influence on how the regime proceeds — and it all might make for a hefty responsibility for the rookie offensive tackle to absorb, process and navigate.
It would figure that he might have felt at least a hint of that entering the Chiefs’ exhibition opener against the Saints on Friday at the Superdome before an announced crowd of 72,080.
Preseason or not, it was the first time performing in an NFL uniform for Fisher, who recently joked that the crowd of 4,000-plus at the Chiefs’ first practice was more than he had been used to playing in front of at Central Michigan.
“You don’t want to overthink anything,” he said late Friday night. “Obviously, there’s going to be nerves involved; if you’re not nervous there’s something wrong with you.
“Obviously, it’s loud, but you don’t really concentrate on where the noise is coming from. You’ve just got to concentrate on the football field. It’s all part of the game: Keep your eyes out of the stands.”
So maybe part of the makeup that made Fisher so irresistible to the Chiefs is that the 6-foot-7, 305-pound right tackle was reflected in his ability to manage the moment.
“He kept his emotions intact to where he could function well,” coach Andy Reid said in a teleconference on Saturday.
Not that Reid is sure he would know about Fisher’s state of mind from anything Fisher said.
“He doesn’t say much,” Reid said, laughing.
Whether it was because of that or because he’s a quick study in the double-secret customs of the NFL, Fisher after the game declined even to answer if he had been X-rayed for the thumb injury he was treated for, saying only that he expected to be fine, which Reid reiterated Saturday.
In addition to the fierce instinct and sheer athleticism that led the Chiefs to draft him, Reid seems to appreciate his apparent equilibrium.
“He goes out and he plays, which is refreshing,” he said. “He goes out, and he does his thing. He’s not one to boast. He doesn’t have the big ups and downs.
“So if he gets beat, he kind of goes back in there. And he didn’t get beat in this game. In practice, if he gets beat he doesn’t throw a tantrum. He gets back in and just works to get better. So you kind of appreciate his approach to it.”
It may be a matter of interpretation, or line protection of Reid’s own, whether Fisher got beat at all, especially on one play in particular on the 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that was the only sequence of the night for the first unit in the 17-13 loss to the Saints.
It appeared Fisher was outmaneuvered by his man as quarterback Alex Smith got flushed out of the pocket and had to scurry to the sideline for a 1-yard loss.
“I’ll have to see it on film,” Fisher said. “I don’t know exactly what happened. You just do your best during the play and move on to the next play.”
Which speaks to Fisher’s broader approach, too.
At times in camp as he has made the considerable adjustment both to the NFL and to the right side after four years of playing from the left tackle, Fisher appeared lost, as Star writer Adam Teicher put it last week: “He frequently appeared confused about whom to block when the defense blitzed and was often beaten in one-on-one pass rush and protection drills.”
But after the game, Fisher said, “Everything is starting to slow down.”
And Reid for the most part seemed to agree even as he acknowledged Fisher is in the embryonic phases of his development.
“I thought he did a good job,” he said. “There were a couple of things in the run game he’s got to learn to feel, that (for instance) when you’re into the third step that the guy’s going to try to counter back across your face.
“But other than that I thought he did a good job. His assignments were accurate, his protection was good. I was impressed with what he did.”
Although Smith’s passes largely were quick-release, Fisher was part of the protection that enabled him to complete seven of eight passes for 68 yards on the drive. And Fisher helped plow a path for Jamaal Charles’ one-yard run for the Chiefs’ only touchdown.
“I executed,” he said, with a shrug, “how we practice it.”
Doing that will only get more challenging for Fisher, who will be scrutinized all the more intensely once the regular season arrives — particularly since the Chiefs open at Jacksonville, which used the No. 2 overall pick to draft Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, whom the Chiefs had debated taking.
But that’s what comes with the territory, which Fisher conceded “at first” he was somewhat daunted by, but says has learned to compartmentalize any emotional burdens from and is “slowly feeling better and better every day.”
That’s good enough for the now, which is where he is fixated. He doesn’t need to overthink anything.