ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Private practices and complete focus on the team were realities for Noah Fant while playing college football at Iowa.
But it’s been eight months since Fant last wore a Hawkeyes jersey, and the Denver Broncos first-round pick had an NFL reality wake-up moment on his first day of training camp July 18 at UCHealth Training Center.
He was shocked when he took the field and heard fans screaming his name — at practice.
Iowa’s practices, generally, were closed.
“It’s a nice addition having fans there and bringing some energy to your practice on top of the energy we’re already brining,” Fant said after the opening day of camp. “That’s pretty special.”
The 6-foot-4, 249-pound Fant is in a much different position than he was in Iowa City, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. His approach is to maintain a no-fear mentality.
“I don’t really feel pressure,” Fant said. “I feel like my expectations for myself are pretty high. I feel like when my expectations for myself exceed everyone else’s, I don’t really feel pressure from everyone else. ... that’s backed by my work ethic and what I do out here every day.”
While Fant doesn’t feel stressed, others in the tight end room might.
The Omaha native already has taken a handful of first-team reps. He plans to be the “first-team guy” by the time training camp concludes.
The competitive spirit is high, and someone always is trying to steal another player’s job. For Fant, that’s just fuel to his fire when he steps inside the lines for practice.
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“Run with the ones and get some good work in, just be successful there,” Fant, 21, said. “Hopefully I can continue to do that and continue to get better.”
Fant is getting first-team reps because he’s not the only one with high expectations. Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and the rest of the coaching staff also have lofty hopes.
At this point, everyone does.
“We are asking him to do a lot because we know what he’s capable of,” Scangarello said. “It’s not just him learning the offense, it’s him learning the nuances of the things we know he’ll excel at, so that adds to the learning.”
First-year coach Vic Fangio also expects a lot from Fant, but doesn’t want to rush his tight end into a workload he can’t handle at this stage in his career.
“I think Noah is going to be a good player,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how fast that happens.”
From the first to the fifth day of camp, Fant said he’s only become more comfortable with his teammates, playbook and new environment. The most crucial challenge, he said, was the speed and athleticism.
Rather than shying away from the newfound NFL challenges, Fant looks at it as an excuse to bring his A-game on every play.
When playing for Iowa, he recalled being able to get away with certain things in practice. In the NFL, that’s no longer the case.
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“You have to be exactly on point on every single thing,” Fant said. “Just the learning curve that’s there and I realized that early on and I’m trying to perfect that.”
Fant faces outside linebacker Von Miller on a day-to-day basis, and he feels the difference in competitive intensity at the NFL level. Miller is a Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP, seven-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time first team All-Pro. There is nobody better to learn from.
“It’s getting me better every day, and I wouldn’t want that any other way,” Fant said. “That’s a good thing for me and hopefully it’s a good thing for him, too. Hopefully, I can give him some competition and try to make each other better.”
Scangarello has noticed through the opening week of training camp that an undervalued aspect of Fant is his ability to block for the run game. Fangio also made note of Fant’s run-blocking skill in practice, but it was something the Broncos organization already knew on draft night — stemming from his time at Iowa.
“I’m not surprised,” Fangio said. “I thought he had the ability and the mindset to potentially be a better blocker than people thought he was or could be. That’s coming along. I’m pleased with that.”
Fant is coming off a three-year career as a Hawkeye where he caught 78 passes for 1,083 yards, 19 touchdowns and did his fair share of blocking at the line of scrimmage. He was first team all-Big Ten in 2018 and went on to be drafted 20th overall by the Broncos.
Now it’s showtime on the most advanced stage, and there is a lot for him to prove.
Fant wouldn’t have it any other way.
“He’s a quick learner, has a skill set and can do just about anything,” Scangarello said.