KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs had 2014 in mind when they selected tackle Eric Fisher with the first pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Fisher, a left tackle at Central Michigan, started 13 games at right tackle last year for the Chiefs while Branden Albert, due to be an unrestricted free agent, was the left tackle. Once Albert departed, as expected, the critical left tackle position — protecting the blind side of quarterback Alex Smith — fell to Fisher.
Fisher, 23, had his struggles during an injury-marred rookie year. He battled hand and shoulder troubles and during the offseason underwent surgery for a shoulder problem and for a sports hernia.
The preseason hasn’t been a lot better. Fisher was beaten for a sack in the preseason opener against Cincinnati and called for a holding penalty last Sunday at Carolina.
Next to quarterback, it may take more time for tackles to develop than any other position. They face elite pass rushers nearly every week, making the jump from college football to the NFL even more daunting.
“It is a transition, especially me coming out of a (Mid-American Conference) school,” Fisher said, “I was used to going against some smaller ends, and you get to the NFL, and you’re seeing the best of the best every single week.
“Every team has a rush end now, and you learn from your mistakes, you keep your head up and you get back in there and keep fighting, and it’s what I’m trying to do.”
Fisher was one of seven tackles taken in the first round of the 2013 draft. Five were taken in the first 19 picks, illustrating the importance of the position in today’s NFL. And each one last year dealt with issues of injury, inconsistency and, in the case of Lane Johnson, the fourth overall pick by Philadelphia, a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
“If Fisher wasn’t the first player picked in the draft, you’d be satisfied with him,” said Gil Brandt, the longtime NFL personnel man who helps coordinate the draft. “It’s like Jake Long was the first pick (in 2008 by Miami). He went to three Pro Bowls in his first three years in the league, and people thought he was a wasted pick and not that good.
“People get the perception if you’re the No. 1 pick in the draft, you should take the league by storm. Even if you go to the Pro Bowl, people are not satisfied.”
Besides making the jump from Central Michigan, Fisher has to unlearn what he was taught at right tackle and relearn the nuances of the left side. But he is feeling more comfortable with each passing day.
“Going from first year to second year,” Fisher said, “everything has slowed down for me quite a bit. It’s amazing knowing the offense — when you know what you’re doing … you can play fast.”
Former Chiefs offensive lineman Rich Baldinger, who was called upon to play both sides of the line during his 10 seasons with the Chiefs, said moving from one side to the other is not as easy as it looks.
“It’s difficult,” Baldinger said. “He has to work on footwork on one side, then the other side … even the great ones like John Alt, you wondered if he was going to be a good player, and he turned out to be an All-Pro. (Fisher) has got a ways to go, and he knows that.
“My biggest fear is Fisher can’t physically hold up. … I don’t care about these preseason games; when the balloons go up in Week 1, he has to be 100 percent. He has to continue to make sure he’s out there practicing every day, because … you’re going to see blitzes … and if you don’t have the practice time, you’re going to have issues.”