By now, Jets offensive lineman George Fant has grown used to looking at life as an athlete from different vantage points -- even different sports.
In college at Western Kentucky, he first was a star of the Hilltoppers's basketball team. His size (6-5) and skill drew the attention of friends and coaches on the football team who finally prevailed upon him to take up a spot at tight end as a fifth-year senior. At the school's pro day, he was listed as an offensive lineman after weighing in at 296. He also worked out at linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle and tight end.
He caught the attention of the Seattle Seahawks, who signed him based on that one workout. Signed as an undrafted free agent in May 2016, Fant played left tackle and at times was the team's fifth offensive lineman -- an eligible receiver, a tackle/tight end hybrid. He even made his first NFL reception on a "Monday Night Football" game in 2019.
Throughout his Seahawks career, Fant was a "receiver," while also playing across multiple positions on the offensive line.
Now, in the 2021 NFL season with the Jets, Fant thought he would compete with Morgan Moses at right tackle, but it was not to be. When second-year man Mekhi Becton went down early in the season with a knee injury, Fant seamlessly shifted to LT. And that's where he's been -- taking 100% of the snaps in all but two games -- playing next to the impressive rookie Alijah Vera-Tucker.
"This is the first year I've really gotten to settle in one position and play for an extensive amount of time," Fant told reporters on Wednesday after the Jets (3-9) returned to the practice field to prepare for Sunday's game against New Orleans (5-7) at MetLife Stadium. "It helps out kind of with muscle memory, being familiar with the position and trying to win every block.
"I've never been the kind of player who needs a fire under me. Competition, that's what this league is. The day you sign is the day they want to find your replacement. Seeing Morgan come here [after Moses was cut by Washington] was cool. This is my guy. We've been friends a long time. I didn't look at it like a slap in the face. It's just competition."
In his 685 snaps so far this season through his 12 games, Fant, 29, has taken only 2 penalties (both for holding) and has allowed a single sack as he protects quarterbacks' blind sides.
"I'm settling in," Fant said. "You've got to remember this is my sixth year as a football player, understanding the game more and what works for me. The key for us is to just continue doing what we're doing. We have plays we really like and we'd like to continue to do those things and have the backs hit it."
For the Saints game, those backs are unlikely to include the veteran Tevin Coleman, who sustained a concussion last week against the Eagles after running for 58 yards on 11 carriers. Rookie Michael Carter, the Jets' leading rusher this season, remains on IR with a sprained ankle. Austin Walter has been signed to the senior roster (it's his third elevation from the practice squad) and will be joined by Ty Johnson and second-year player La'Mical Perine. The Saints defense has allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards in the league so far this season.
While the Jets had hoped that the combination of Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker on the left side would be the start of a long-term relationship, Fant has done the job, and done it well. He said that he has been immensely impressed by the rookie LG from USC.
"He's a special player, and he's going to be one of the best guards in this league for a long time," Fant said. "He's so far ahead, knowing ball, setting angles and knowing where he needs to get on the field, and just understanding things. A special player."
In addition to witnessing the evolution and professional growth of AVT, Fant has a front-row seat as rookie QB Zach Wilson grows and gets more comfortable.
"You're definitely seeing his growth week by week since he got back [after missing four games with a knee injury]," Fant said. "It's cool that he got to sit back and watch Mike White, all our quarterbacks, all who played. And to see how they get the ball out and do certain things. Plus he got to go back and watch every game he played before. You see the growth and the player he's becoming.
"It's important for him to start games hot, get the ball out, make a couple of completions and work off that. It's huge for him."
See the Top Practice Images from Wednesday of Saints Week at 1 Jets Drive