Rookie Jake Fisher has been learning on the move.
Even Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson had to stop and watch Wednesday when rookie offensive lineman Jake Fisher and offensive line coach Paul Alexander danced through some pass sets during a break in practice.
"I was trying to see who had the best hips,' said Jackson with a smile.
Fisher's transition to the NFL out of Oregon hasn't always been a waltz in the park since the Bengals refused to look a gift horse in the mouth in the second round even though they drafted another stallion in the first round ahead of him in Texas A&M left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi.
But Alexander thought Wednesday had been a very good day for Fisher. It was the second straight practice in the mandatory minicamp that he worked at left tackle in place of starter Andrew Whitworth (excused for a funeral) and since right end Michael Johnson hadn't mauled the quarterback when he was in there, Alexander thought it was a good sign.
"He didn't have any assignment errors and his technique was good," Alexander said after the workout. "He's really an excellent athlete."
Every day hasn't been as smooth for Fisher, but a pair of decade-long NFL linemen say they don't have to be in order for him to eventually make it.
Dave Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst, can see Fisher's head spinning and feet stopping as he negotiates the rather large gulf between Oregon's scheme and the one the Bengals employ. Eric Winston, who is holding down right tackle until Andre Smith returns for training camp, remembers how he never got comfortable until his second spring and cautions not to expect it all from Fisher right away.
"Sometimes when you're a rookie you're just trying to learn the calls and survive," Winston said before Wednesday's practice. "I don't think it's fair to expect that guy to come in and be like, 'Oh, he's going to be fine if he has to play.' That might not be the case. It doesn't mean he's a bad player, it just means he's got a long way to go and he'll put in the work to do it."
And the nice thing is the Bengals aren't looking to rush Fisher. Whitworth and Smith are set and then there is Winston behind them. It may get interesting if the Bengals deem Fisher is good enough to be the first player off the bench in case of injury at guard. Certainly Alexander has that kind of confidence in him. Lapham likes Fisher's attitude and movement and he's amazed at what he faces from a technique challenge.
Cincinnati Bengals host mandatory minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium 06/17/2015
Oregon likes their linemen to jump out and attack pass rushers. In the NFL, for the most part, pass protection involves taking a step back and, Lapham says, giving ground grudgingly. And the running games are night and day.
"He has to deal with the mental and physical transition. It's a pretty heavy load. And he's playing a lot of different spots, so he's got more on his plate than the average bear," Lapham said. "After watching him I think the one thing he has to make sure he doesn't do is lean. And a lot of times when you're not sure, you're stopping your feet and you're dead when you stop your feet. That's just a sign of the mental challenges right now, but I think he's going to be fine."
Winston thinks working the multiple positions is going to be a big benefit for Fisher down the road even though it can seem like it is piling up.
"I think there's a lot more offense for him to learn, so that's tough. But I think it's going to help him in the long run because you learn to conceptually know the offense," said Winston, a third-round pick in 2006 who didn't start until the last seven games of his rookie season. "I think that's what you have to do to be a really good player. There's not a lot of good players that I've ever met that just know what they're doing. They know what everybody else is doing.
"So when you learning all those positions and you learn the calls that maybe the centers and guards are making – when you're stuck at tackle you don't necessarily know what that call might be inside. For him to have to know those calls is a positive thing. I think it's a little bit of overload at first. I think that's tough and it slows you down. But he'll figure it out eventually."
As for Fisher, he's showing the same energetic, coachable demeanor they coveted when he arrived at PBS for his pre-draft visit. After he left they went into mourning for a while because they thought they'd never get a shot at that kind of character and player beyond the 21st pick. This year's Randall Cobb, they thought.
So it's no surprise he downplays the difference in the scheme.
"A lot of (Alexander's) technique is different from what we were taught in college," Fisher said. "But from the aspect of learning and understanding things, he's a great teacher helping us understand what he wants. But from understanding a whole different game, I wouldn't say it's much more difficult."
Fisher certainly doesn't seem unnerved by how he's been introduced so briskly into the pros. With Ogbuehi probably not practicing until October as he comes back from an ACL injury and Whitworth getting days off befitting a veteran in the spring, there were days Fisher worked at left tackle. When Winston got a break, he moved to right tackle, the spot where right now Fisher seems to look the most natural. There were stints at both guards.
He found out where he was playing every day when he showed up in the morning. And sometimes it changed in the middle of practice.
"I like playing every position. It's all I could ask for,' Fisher said. "I love it. This is what I want to do for my profession."
Lapham likes the sound of the enthusiasm and has some advice for him to keep it in this profession.
"I think what he has to avoid is the frustration," Lapham said. "Just realize you have a lot to learn and there's a lot on your plate and don't try to take too big a bite. Take little bites. Don't try to eat the whole bird in one bite."
So far, it seems, he's figuring out the utensils.