The gains in Eric Fisher’s career have been steady for months now.
In January, he made everyone take notice when he was caught delivering a shot to an on-his-knees J.J. Watt, which not only caused Watt — the Houston Texans’ superstar defensive end — to leave the game, but also nicely encapsulated a season in which Fisher showed improved toughness, nastiness and effectiveness.
In July, Fisher signed a four-year extension with the Chiefs worth $48 million.
And last week, Fisher — who has started all 15 games at left tackle this season — was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate for the first time in his career.
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“It’s cool to get some recognition,” said Fisher, who is a third alternate. “It’s nice to, you know, hear or see that people are seeing what I’m doing.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid agreed.
“I think the neatest thing is some of his peers voted him as an alternate for the Pro Bowl, which I thought was a tribute to the kid,” Reid said. “You’ve seen him work hard.”
And while Fisher is clearly ascending into the form the Chiefs hoped he might take once they selected him No. 1 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, his career hasn’t been without its valleys.
Fisher, a Central Michigan product, struggled with the significant speed difference between the Mid-American Conference and the National Football League as a rookie, when he also dealt with a shoulder injury and a position change from left to right tackle.
He moved back to left tackle in his second year and started all 16 games, a significant step that allowed him to pack on muscle and strength during the ensuing offseason for the first time in his career.
But that didn’t pay off immediately, as Fisher was switched from left tackle to right tackle before last season. It didn’t help when he didn’t start the season opener against Houston. Even though Fisher was battling a sprained ankle, Reid had said earlier in the week that he’d expected Fisher to play, and the late scratch prompted some to question Fisher’s toughness — something he’s indirectly hinted as using as motivation more than once.
Fisher started to remake the perception of him when he was reinserted into the starting lineup midway through last season, and started showing the nastiness and edge on tape that made him attractive to the Chiefs in college. That crystallized with the aforementioned Watt play, and Fisher has been ascending ever since.
“He’s taken whatever people have thrown at him from the outside and hasn’t let that affect him from how he goes about his business,” Reid said. “He’s still kept his personality … he has kind of a goofy personality and it kind of keeps everybody loose, yet he knows when it’s time to crank it up, which is important.”
Fisher said that his comfort in his own shoes has simply come with time.
“That was a big part, just getting back to doing what I was meant to do instead of trying to be the No. 1 pick and all that stuff,” Fisher said. “I’ve just been myself man, and it’s worked out.”
Part of that, he said, came when he stopped worrying so much and got back to having fun playing the game he enjoyed as a kid.
“I’m letting it loose,” he said. “You can’t replace going out there and fighting with somebody. You can’t do that anywhere else in this country and get away with it. It only lasts for so long, so you’ve got to take advantage of it, enjoy it while you can. It’s crazy how fast it goes by, so I’m just trying to take every minute of it in.”
The Chiefs hope he does. Fisher has excellent athleticism for an offensive tackle, which — when combined with his size (6 feet 7, 315 pounds) and nasty run-blocking disposition — gives him top left-tackle talent, provided he can ever marry that with more consistent technique in pass protection.
To be sure, Fisher’s Pro Bowl alternate nod is a sign he’s getting it. But he’s only 25, and it would be surprising if he stopped getting better now.
“I think the next couple of years here you’ll probably see closer to the finished product,” Reid said. “I still think the more he plays he seems to get better as it goes on here.”
Fisher is attacking that goal with a simple approach.
“I’m trying to go out there with the same mind-set every single day, and bring the same energy and confidence and everything that comes with the game every week,” Fisher said.