The moment of truth for Eric Fisher came the minute he stepped onto the practice field last January at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Sure, Fisher had been a great offensive lineman at Central Michigan, where he dominated players from schools such as Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan.
Now, he would have to block against pass rushers from the big schools, players who would get drafted and play in the NFL. And nothing changed. Fisher was again dominant, and in doing so answered the last remaining questions about his ability.
That’s when Fisher, in a draft short on stars at quarterback, pass rusher and other glamour positions, established himself as a serious contender to be the No. 1 overall pick.
“There was a huge buzz about him heading into the Senior Bowl because everybody has seen him do it against one level of competition and everybody wanted to see whether he could do it against another,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “The Senior Bowl erased all of that with Fisher. He came in and he dominated that whole week and he did it in the one-on-one drills where weaknesses get exposed and he did it in team and he did it against all the big helmets: guys from LSU and Texas and Alabama and all those other helmets he came up against.
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“It was hard for me to find a hole in this kid’s game. Once he eliminated the quality of competition question with the way he played in the Senior Bowl, there was no reason to think he wouldn’t be a perennial All-Pro.”
The Chiefs held that No. 1 overall pick and eventually drafted Fisher instead of, among others, Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel.
Joeckel played against major-college competition, first in the Big 12 and then in his final season in the SEC.
That might have given Joeckel the edge in the minds of coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs had Fisher not excelled at the Senior Bowl. Joeckel was drafted by Jacksonville with the second pick.
“We went and visited him, watched all his workouts,” Reid said. “We watched their games. Eric got the opportunity to play against Iowa and Michigan State, which are large schools.…
“Whatever he was presented with, he played against. So we went off of that, our evaluation as of him as a person, and we thought he was the best for this football team.”
Fisher might have approached the Senior Bowl with some apprehension. He was a small-time recruit who had no scholarship offer from any school in a major Division I conference.
But he played well when the Chippewas went up against those schools, so he never looked at the Senior Bowl as a major obstacle.
“I don’t ever have doubt in my mind,” he said. “No matter who I’m going against, I’m going to compete with them. At the Senior Bowl you get the best college athletes down there and I thought I did very well. I went there with the idea of taking care of business. I had the next level of competitor against me and I adjusted to that level.
“I think I’ve always known what type of player I am, what kind of competitor I am.”
Fisher had an uneven start to his NFL career. He played well in the preseason opener against New Orleans and then struggled the next week against San Francisco. He missed some practice time because of thumb and shoulder injuries.
It was predictable that Fisher, from a smaller college, would need some time to make a successful transition to the NFL.
“There’s a learning curve,” said right guard Jon Asamoah, who plays next to Fisher. “I’m there every day. I tell him when we run a play, ‘OK Eric. In a game this is how it’s going to unfold and this is the way we need to approach this.’
“Every day we learn something about each other. We learn to communicate a little better. … He’s going to learn just like every rookie does.”
Had this been most typical years for the draft, Fisher might be playing for some team other than the Chiefs. The Chiefs entered the offseason looking for a starting quarterback, and traded for Alex Smith only after determining that none worthy of the first overall pick would be available in the draft.
In most other years, that quarterback is available in the draft.
“You’d always like to have a quarterback with that first pick,” former Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt said. “There’s no doubt about that.
“But Fisher was a solid choice for the Chiefs. They won’t have to look to replace him for a long time. There’s no question about him. They couldn’t have gone wrong with either of those guys, Fisher or Joeckel. But if the choice was mine, I’d have picked Fisher. I’m happy with either one of them. The thing that separates Fisher a little bit is that he has more room to grow. Joeckel is probably as good as he’s going to get.”
Mayock compared Fisher to Browns tackle Joe Thomas.
“Thomas has been to a few consecutive Pro Bowls for a bad team,” Mayock said. “Fisher is just like him. He’s long. He’s got good feet. He can bend and drive in the run game. It’s rare to get all of that in one player.
“Ten years from now, I’d be really disappointed if Eric Fisher didn’t play in six or seven Pro Bowls. He needs to be a dominant tackle — I don’t think it’s as important whether it’s left tackle or right tackle like it was in the old days — and I think he will be.”