As his teammates joked around him, Eric Fisher spoke quietly at his locker, reflecting on the past 12 months.
This was Dec. 29, in the immediate aftermath of the Chiefs’ season-ending 19-7 win over the San Diego Chargers, and while Fisher, the second-year left tackle, wasn’t thrilled — he had hoped for a playoff berth — there was definitely a subtle sense of satisfaction and relief in his voice.
Not that Fisher, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 draft, was entirely pleased with his season however. In his first year as Alex Smith’s blindside protector, he allowed seven sacks and 24 hurries — far too many for Fisher’s taste.
But after a trying rookie year in which he played through multiple injuries, struggled to learn a new position (right tackle) and only played in 14 of 17 possible games, the fact Fisher made it through a 16-game season in 2014 — he played 1,030 of 1,032 possible snaps, tied with center Rodney Hudson for the most on the offense — well, this was a victory he could revel in.
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At least for a little while.
“Coming in last year, I had a lot to learn, and I couldn’t really keep my body healthy, so that was one of my goals this year: to come out for 16 games, take one at a time, and do whatever I had to do to stay healthy,” Fisher said. “Obviously, that was a bummer not being able to keep this season going, but it’s just that some things aren’t meant to be.”
It would’ve been hard to blame anyone for thinking a full 16-game season from Fisher this season might have fallen into that category, too.
“I thought Fisher made big strides this year,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Number one, he played every game and took down the left tackle position. He did all that without having really any offseason.”
After undergoing shoulder surgery last offseason that kept him from building up his upper body, Fisher — who says he weighed between 295 and 300 pounds as a rookie — showed up to training camp this August with 20 extra pounds ... and a brace on his shoulder.
He then spent the preseason and part of the regular season fighting technique issues and regaining strength in the shoulder.
“It’s unbelievable,” Fisher said with a laugh. “The things I wasn’t able to do in the weight room … I think it really slowed me down. But at the same time, I found a way to get my job done. I just kept battling. If I couldn’t do something in the offseason, I’d find a different way to do it. I think that’s all that matters in the end.”
Fisher’s overall Pro Football Focus grade improved slightly this year (negative-17.5, up from negative-21.5), but his cumulative grade over the last nine games (negative-2.6) was significantly better than his grade over the first seven games (negative-14.9).
Expectations within the organization remain high for the 6-foot-7, 315-pounder from Central Michigan. After all his athleticism and high ceiling led to his ascension up draft boards in 2013.
“I mean, as you look at Fish, he didn’t have an offseason this year — he was doing rehabilitation with his shoulder,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said. “I think he grew exponentially as the year went on. He’ll need a whole year of strength and conditioning to get bigger and stronger, but I’m happy with where he’s projected he should be.”
Reid agreed, and noted that this offseason will be huge for Fisher’s development.
“That will be important that he gets in and continues to increase his strength, which he’ll do,” Reid said. “Again, very talented physically, very talented, smart kid, willing to work, those are all positives.
Sitting at his locker after the Chargers game, Fisher certainly seemed to understand the stakes for him heading into the offseason. The jump from the Mid-American Conference to the National Football League has been a big one, and by the end of year three, people will be itching to declare where he stands as a player, once and for all.
So he plans to attack his offseason conditioning with a vengeance.
“It’s a long season,” Fisher said. “You’ve got 20 games. You’ve got to take a little time to yourself, get mentally healthy, get physically healthy and hit it hard. I’m looking forward to that day when it comes.”
Fisher will have no shortage of motivation during his workouts. His seven sacks allowed, according to PFF, tied with eight others for the sixth-most among 84 eligible tackles, while his 24 hurries was the 23rd-most.
“You remember them,” Fisher said of the sacks. “Everyone is going to get beat, though. Nobody’s perfect. Obviously the pass rushers I go against, it’s the best of the best. You go back and look at them, because most of them, I’ll be seeing again next year. Come back with a better plan next year.”
Fisher is optimistic that a better body, in addition to the experience he received this year, will lead to an improved performance next season.
“It’s amazing how much this year slowed down compared to last year,” Fisher said. “We had a good season, we really did. I’ll go back, start really dissecting my game, start picking the little things out I need to change, things I need to get better.
“But I really do think one of the biggest things is going to be the weight room, putting some good weight on and good strength on.”
At this point, Fisher was almost dressed, nearly ready to head out of the locker room toward an offseason that just might define which direction his career heads.
“It’s time to start building for next year,” he said.