Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher relishes fresh chance to prove himself
08/01/2014 4:25 PM
08/02/2014 10:56 PM
About the instant the Chiefs anointed Eric Fisher the overall No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft last year, forces began aligning against immediate validation of his selection.
For starters, Fisher would have to transition from the obscurity of being nestled along the offensive line of a mid-major college, Central Michigan, to absorbing intense scrutiny of his every step that came with the draft.
If he isn’t necessarily an introvert, he hardly basks in attention, either. And, wham, he was a focal point of a rebuilding team, playing before more fans in his first days at Chiefs training camp than he had in some college games.
Perhaps mindful that a $14.5 million signing bonus accompanied all the scrutiny, Fisher laughed Friday when asked whether it had been an oppressive weight.
“I wouldn’t call it a burden at all,” he said, though immediately adding, “But it’s a position you’re put in, and obviously there’s expectations that come along with it, and you’ve got to make the most of it.”
Last season, Fisher came closer to minimizing it than maximizing it.
Even if it was for a variety of reasons, many that seem mitigating, the 2014 season essentially is a fresh audition to prove who he is and, in fact, for vindication of the first pick of the new Chiefs regime.
In short, it’s on Fisher to demonstrate he was worth it.
Now, there are ample reasons to believe his theoretically vast upside will be harnessed.
General manager John Dorsey is right when he says players typically make their greatest strides between their first and second seasons.
And that may be all the more so with Fisher, whose coveted physical measurables are ahead of his raw technique and skills.
That seems understandable enough.
As a linebacker and punter, he hadn’t so much as stooped into a three-point stance before his senior year of high school.
And he had a heap of variables to contend with last year.
Even as he was making a more radical leap in quality of play than most top draft picks do, he was doing it at a position (right tackle) that might be considered the same as normal (left tackle) but in fact felt more opposite than similar to him.
“It’s almost like being right- or left-handed, surprisingly,” he said. “One thing just feels more natural than the other, and I think a lot of tackles would tell you that …
“Technique is huge in this league. When you play with technique, it’s just that much easier. And sometimes technique isn’t natural.”
Especially when it’s against the grain of all you’ve ever known.
Moreover, he was muzzled by injuries, starting with a thumb in the first preseason game at New Orleans. Then came at least three others (shoulder, concussion and groin), and Fisher required offseason shoulder and sports-hernia surgeries.
So maybe it’s no wonder that Fisher at times looked outmanned or discombobulated — or both at once.
He was culpable for team-highs of seven sacks and 35 hurries in 2013. According to analysis by Pro Football Focus, his run-blocking grade ranked 55th among 76 tackles who took at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps.
Add it all up, and his rating was 70th overall among tackles.
If you want to assume his performance makes him a bust or that the rash of injuries somehow indicates he’s soft, well, it’s on Fisher to dispel those stigmas.
Maybe he won’t, but … why shouldn’t he?
He is far more comfortable with the offense now. So much so that he reports a dramatic sense of things slowing around him that simultaneously has allowed him to speed up as he shrugs off the tentativeness that inhibited him a year ago.
He has put on about 20 desirable pounds, now carrying 315 on his 6-foot-7 frame.
Injuries seem largely behind him, at least at the moment. Even if he’s still not competing in one-on-one drills, he’s been full-go otherwise and is, as he put it recently, “excited to have a complete body” again.
And, of course, he’s simply far more at ease being back at his natural position.
“It’s a very proud position; there’s a lot riding on that position,” he said. “Protecting that blind side is something I take huge, huge pride in.”
There’s something else here, too, that circles back to the very draft day that both made him rich and complicated things some.
Afterward, Fisher spoke of what the moment meant to him: the chance to bankroll retirement for his single mother, Heidi Langegger, a data analyst and thyroid cancer survivor who had worked 33 years for Volkswagen.
His mom, he said then, “never handed me anything.” She told him, “If I want something in life, I’m going to have to go out there and get it.”
Her way and his appreciation of it says a lot more about how he’s approaching all this than the warped instant expectations that came with being the overall No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
By all accounts, his life has been predicated on the same work ethic, from how he went about cutting down trees for summer jobs to the way he’s dedicated himself to football.
By all accounts, he has the physical tools to make good as a pro.
So why shouldn’t his rookie year soon be a distant memory of growing pains?
“It was a lot to deal with as a new player in this league,” Fisher said. “That’s why I’m looking so forward to this year and to great things happening.”
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