Among his many tasks on the Jets' offensive line throughout the 2021 NFL season, left tackle George Fant was charged with protecting QB Zach Wilson's blind side on passing plays.
"I take a lot of pride in making sure I keep him clean," Fant said. "Sometimes he jokes and asks me how I'm feeling. I tell him 'I feel sore.' And he's like 'I feel good.' That means I did my job."
In every sense, Fant was one of the pleasant surprises for the Green & White. He started Week 1 as the right tackle, after winning the job in training camp over veteran Morgan Moses. That residency lasted all of 48 snaps at Carolina when Mekhi Becton went down with a season-ending knee injury. Fant flipped to left tackle, Moses stepped in on the right side and the Jets' offensive line went about its business.
"In training camp toward the end of the Philly week leading up to Week 1, I was getting left tackle reps because Mekhi went down then," Fant told team reporter Eric Allen. "Having to switch from the right, I was already kind of in the groove. Once I got back over there, it took a game to get used to it. I took that first game and started building blocks."
Teamed with rookie LG Alijah Vera-Tucker, Fant (who will turn 30 before the start of the 2022 season) helped to give Wilson and the Jets' offense a steady veteran presence on the left side. According to Pro Football Focus, Fant's 18 QB pressures allowed ranked second in the league among tackles who took at least 50% of their team's snaps. In 15 games (he missed the season finale at Buffalo with a knee injury), Fant allowed only a single sack in 594 pass-blocking snaps, while taking 887 total snaps. He had a pass-blocking efficiency number of 98.3. He had the third-lowest pressure rate (3.03%) among left tackles behind Byron Smith (2.39%) and Andrew Whitworth (2.5%).
"For me, as far as my play, this is a year I got everything together," Fant said. "I got a position to play at left tackle, a really comfortable position, for the whole year, save one game. I had an opportunity to get comfortable in a position for the first time in my career and to really show who I am as a player."
Signed by the Seahawks in 2016 as an undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky (where he was a star on the basketball team), Fant played left tackle and also saw time as an OL/TE hybrid, lending to his good hands developed playing hoops. Late in the 2019 season, he was an eligible receiver on 42 plays in a win over Minnesota -- in addition to seeing time across multiple positions on the O-line. In free agency, he signed a three-year deal with the Jets. Fant (6-5, 322) started 14 games (12 at RT, 2 at LT) in 2020.
As he prepared for the 2021 season, Fant had a bout of Covid and was cast into a competition with Moses at right tackle. Fant eventually won the starting job, then stepped in to replace Becton for the balance of the season on the left side. He took 100% of the snaps on offense in 12 games.
After the Green & White signed Moses (a longtime friend), Fant said that it "was just something that drove me to work even harder to get ready."
"I worked in the offseason, got Covid in camp," he said. "I had to sit back and reflect, go over the playbook and make sure I got it down. When I got back, I hit it full stride. At the end of the day it's about being a professional. It's a job. It's a game, but it's my job, my job to come in and play at the highest level, no matter what."
Speaking about Moses, he said: "I knew what he would bring to the room and there would be a great competition, and I'd be a better player for it."
See All of the Top Images from the Green & White's 2021 Season
As the Jets bolstered the roster by drafting a slew of college players, many of whom saw significant playing time and gained invaluable experience as rookies, Fant said that the infusion of young and hungry players had a positive impact on him. In addition to Vera-Tucker and Wilson on offense, on defense players like Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols and Jason Pinnock have had a hand in altering the team's culture.
"I remember last year, we talked about it, said we need the culture," he said. "The first time I met [head coach Robert] Saleh I felt we had the right guy. We can build on it and be one of top offenses in the NFL. And we got some young guys who can really play at a high level. I like playing with them and look forward to seeing them play next year, fix things and come back and apply it.
"You got all these young guys on the roster and those guys are only going to get better. They'll get better, but the game doesn't get easier, though they'll have a better understanding of it. We've got some good veterans in the room, in the building who understand what it takes to win games. When we bring those [young] guys along we're going to be in a good spot."
As for Fant's "good spot" next season -- left tackle, right tackle, tackle eligible ... no matter.
"Football is still a learning game, you're never really relaxing," he said. "In the offseason I'll be watching film and seeing what I need to fix. I'm excited to get back there and show what I can really do."