By the time the first half of the Chiefs’ 26-16 win over Philadelphia was finished Thursday, you could understand if Eric Fisher was a little discouraged.
Sure, the Chiefs led by 10 points. But Fisher, the rookie right tackle who was taken No. 1 overall in April’s NFL Draft, committed one holding penalty and was beaten for a sack and two hurries by Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin and defensive end Fletcher Cox in 22 first-half passing attempts by quarterback Alex Smith.
It was, perhaps, the worst half of Fisher’s three-game professional career. Pro Football Focus, which grades every NFL player in every game, assigned Fisher a three-game grade of minus-6.7, which ranks worst on the Chiefs and is 52nd out of 55 NFL tackles who have played 75 percent of their team’s snaps.
Fisher, however, is hardly the only highly touted rookie tackle dealing with a learning curve. Pro Football Focus has also assigned negative grades to the four other right tackles drafted in the first round: Jacksonville’s Luke Joeckel ranks 36th at minus-1.9 and Philadelphia’s Lane Johnson and the New York Giants’ Justin Pugh are tied for 48th at minus-5.2. San Diego’s D.J. Fluker has only played two games due to a concussion, but checks in at minus-1.4.
“It’s been tough mentally, physically, emotionally,” Fisher said of his adjustment to the NFL. “You’ve just got to keep your composure. There’s a lot that comes with this game and you roll with the punches.”
Fortunately for the Chiefs, Fisher seemed to do just that in the second half against the Eagles. He was called for one more penalty — a hold on Cox during a running play — but didn’t allow another sack, hit or hurry in 13 pass attempts. He was also a part of an offensive line that helped the Chiefs rush for 98 yards in 21 carries during the second half, effectively putting the Eagles away.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid lauded Fisher, 22, for hanging tough and showing flashes, despite his somewhat uneven transition from left to right tackle.
“I appreciate his effort out here,” Reid said. “He’s just trying to do everything the right way and he battles. Sometimes he gets in awkward positions, and he has the athletic ability and fights his way out of it. It’s not the prettiest picture, but it ends up being a productive play and I appreciate that from him. That you can work with as a coach.”
Reid said the Chiefs will also be able to bulk up Fisher’s 6-foot-7, 306-pound frame.
“Normally they put on about 10 pounds by the time you get to the next season, and he’ll do that,” Reid said. “He has a big frame that he can add some weight to. He’ll get in the weight room with Barry (Rubin) and he’ll have a whole year to do that part.”
Reid, however, stopped short of saying the extra strength alone would rectify some of the negative plays Fisher has made.
“I don’t think it’s all that,” Reid said. “Some of it is just he wants to go attack, which is a good thing — you’d rather have it that way than the other way — he wants to go attack and he’ll over settle, but he’ll learn just to kind of calm himself down a little bit.”
Guard Geoff Schwartz also noted that Fisher has been targeted because of his draft status and the presence of established veteran Branden Albert on the opposite side.
“You’ve got to think, the Eagles and any other team, really, they’re gonna come after that guy,” said Schwartz, a six-year veteran. “Are they gonna come after B.A., or are they come after Fish? They’re gonna come after the young cat. So, that’s the way it is. He knows that, we know that.”
Fisher still managed to make a few impressive plays Thursday. He had a textbook reach block that sprung running back Jamaal Charles for a three-yard score in the second half, and also drove a linebacker 12 yards downfield on another second-half run.
“There’s definitely different things you see in there that give you hope,” Schwartz said. “Really, some of his issues have been pass blocking and that just comes with time, knowing space, knowing angles, stuff like that. There’s no worry we’re 3-0.”
Second-year tackle Donald Stephenson hopes the Chiefs’ overall record helps Fisher shrug off his individual defeats, which he found to be the key for surviving as a rookie.
“Because you know it’s going to happen,” said Stephenson, who played in 16 games and started seven last season. “The first thing the vets told me was it’s not college — you’re going to get your butt whupped, sometimes. It’s how you handle it and how you respond. That’s what I tried to do, I just kept my head up and brought it the next game, next play.”
Stephenson and Schwartz said that’s exactly what Fisher has done, as well.
“Everybody struggles that rookie year, and he’s handling it pretty good,” Stephenson said. “He’s always in here working on days off, watching extra film he’s already acting like a vet. That’s going to pay off for him. The effort is there.”
Fisher seems to understand that for most, the journey toward becoming a good NFL player is not an easy process.
“Everyone makes mistakes in this game,” Fisher said. “I look at the film, I look at my assignments and I learn from those mistakes and do my best to not make them again.
“Every day, I’m going to be a stronger player.”