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Matt Calkins: George Fant’s injury deprives Seahawks of potential upswing

Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle George Fant is taken away on a cart after Friday’s season-ending ACL injury. (Scott Eklund / AP)
Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle George Fant is taken away on a cart after Friday’s season-ending ACL injury. (Scott Eklund / AP)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – There was a spectacular catch by Kasen Williams, a marvelous performance from Russell Wilson, and a shutdown effort from the defense.

But if Seahawks fans are being honest with themselves, Friday’s 20-13 preseason win over the Vikings was more discouraging than it was encouraging – for one reason.

With about nine minutes left in the second quarter, 10 Seahawks walked back to the huddle while one lay on the ground. After center Justin Britt had fallen into him on a pass play, Seattle left tackle George Fant found himself writhing in pain upon hurting his knee.

Turns out it was a torn anterior-cruciate ligament that will likely keep him for the year. Devastating.

“We’re really brokenhearted about George Fant getting hurt. It’s just really unfortunate. He’s done and come so far, and everybody’s cheering for him,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. It kind of takes a little something out of it for everybody.”

So now the question is: What does this mean for the O-line?

No doubt that unit has been the Seahawks’ most scrutinized over the past couple of years.

Fair or not, its tenuousness last season bore most of the blame for Seattle’s nonexistent run game and Wilson’s 41 sacks – the second most in the league.

Alhough Fant was never seen as the line’s panacea, he was billed as the Seahawk who had made the most strides.

Who are some of the players that have wowed you? a reporter asked Carroll on the first day of training camp.

“I don’t think anyone has done more than George Fant,” Carroll said. “George just had a fantastic spring and offseason … he got bigger and stronger and was able to add, shoot, maybe 22-23 pounds from where he was last year.”

There are plenty of examples of NFL players – regardless of position – who struggled as rookies before surging in their second year. But the potential for growth doubles when it involves a guy who didn’t even play football in college.

Fant was a power forward for Western Kentucky’s basketball team during his four years in Bowling Green. He came to the Seahawks undrafted and unrefined. He admits to being lost for much of last year, as defensive ends would blow by him as though he were holding a red cape.

But the Seahawks believed in him. They saw instincts and athleticism that could add a jolt if properly developed.

According to O-line coach Tom Cable, that development was right on schedule.

“He is much stronger and much more aware of where his body fits,” Cable said earlier in the month. “Running-game wise, it’s a night-and-day player.”

But will he get the chance to prove it?

To say the Seahawks’ season was contingent upon Fant’s contributions is pure hyperbole. He is an unproven lineman whose ability is still unclear. It’s an NFL tradition for players to be praised during training camp before folding when the regular season begins.

But I don’t know … something felt different about Fant.

With the $8 million Luke Joeckel next to him at guard, there was optimism about the O-line’s left side. Carroll said that those positions were solidified based on what Fant and Joeckel had shown him. But now there are questions all of a sudden, and that could be problematic.

The offensive line isn’t a sexy subject, but it is a crucial unit. And for the past couple of seasons, that unit has been the difference between the Seahawks being good and great.

This isn’t an issue that’s going away.

Three-foot holes won’t start magically appearing in the backfield, and Wilson won’t be getting 5 seconds of protection whenever he drops back.

Would Fant have solved all this? Not by himself he wouldn’t.

But if he had grown the way coaches have said he has, he could have added a major boost.

Now we’ll wait to see when he’ll be back on the field – just as we’ll wait to see if this line can deliver.

The Seahawks beat Minnesota in that exhibition game Friday. But with Fant falling, they didn’t come out ahead.

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