When the Seahawks initially decided to throw reserve tackle George Fant into the mix at tight end last season, the move looked to be little more than a gimmick born from desperation.
But deploying Fant, a former college basketball star at Western Kentucky, as a pseudo sixth offensive lineman wound up being one of the wisest choices Seattle made in 2018.
Once Will Dissly went down with a torn patellar tendon in Week 4, Fant stepped up and provided a major boost to the Seahawks ground game, helping the team finish with over 2,500 rushing yards. He also caught his first NFL pass, though the turf monster tripped him up, limiting his potential yardage after the catch and creating plenty of laughs on the sideline.
Even with Dissly expected to be ready to return at some point in training camp, it doesn’t appear Fant will be finished moonlighting as a tight end anytime soon.
When asked what he learned about his Seahawks during their offseason program, coach Pete Carroll immediately began elaborating on his rising confidence in the team’s offensive line, including the enhanced versatility of Fant.
“Last year at this time, George wasn’t doing anything on the edge,” Carroll said on Thursday. “He was playing all tackle. Now we come back with a real clear idea of what he can do and how we can utilize him. And so we’re just so much farther ahead in that regard and taking advantage of the mismatch that he creates.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll discusses his confidence in the offensive line and George Fant's development this spring.
It's rare to see a 300-plus pound tight end considered a weapon, and 99 percent of the time, Carroll’s commentary would be viewed with a satirical lens. Even in a league featuring the best athletes in the world, however, Carroll knows there aren’t very many unicorns like Fant scattered across 32 NFL rosters.
“There’s not very many 329-pound tight ends in the NFL, you know,” Carroll smiled, adding, “And it’s fun to be huge.”
Nobody will mistake Fant as the second coming of Rob Gronkowski. But Carroll isn’t the first Seahawks coach to speak positively about Fant’s development as a tight end this spring, even if most of the commentary has been in jest.
When asked about his first impressions on newly-acquired tight end Jacob Hollister during OTAs, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer also referenced Fant as a receiving threat, including plenty of hyperbole in his analysis.
After commending Hollister for his speed and route-running savvy, Schottenheimer cited a catch made by Fant at practice, joking, “So I think you match him up in there with George and we got some pretty explosive playmakers.”
Disregarding the surplus of playful jabs at his expense, Fant has been running routes and catching passes throughout Seattle’s offseason program and Carroll isn’t kidding about the possibility he could continue to see an extensive role at tight end.
While some fans won’t necessarily be happy to hear it, Schottenheimer told reporters near the conclusion of OTAs that the Seahawks weren’t “going to apologize” for running the football. After running more than 50 percent of the time a year ago, they’re not suddenly going to start winging the ball around the yard 50 times a game.
With running backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny returning behind an experienced offensive line further strengthened by signing veteran Mike Iupati, running the football and controlling field position will remain a priority for Seattle. This will undoubtedly create a meaningful role for Fant once again, especially in short yardage and goal line situations.
And if opponents choose not to account for him as an eligible receiver? Carroll isn’t ruling out Fant making a few plays downfield as a receiver and gave a subtle warning to safeties and linebackers tasked with covering him.
“He’s scorching up the seams, he owns the seam route as a matter of fact.”
As Carroll clearly understands, the chances of Fant actually making a catch downfield in a game are pretty slim, but returning to the realm of reality, he does offer far more flexibility than most other NFL offensive linemen.
Schottenheimer could easily have Fant leak out as a receiver near the goal line or on play action pass plays and he wouldn’t be serving as a simple decoy. Especially in the red zone, he’d be a legitimate check down option for Russell Wilson and the quarterback would trust him to make a play if he came open.
And if he does get a chance to run a route down the seam? Based on the following clip posted on his personal Instagram account, it appears the Seahawks have already been preparing for such an occasion.
Offering superior blocking compared to most NFL tight ends while possessing freakish athleticism and ball skills for his size, expect to hear plenty more “No. 74 is now eligible” with Fant on the field in 2019.
For the sake of his pride, let’s just hope he keeps his feet the next time Wilson entrusts him with the football.