Paddy Fisher’s mindset entering his rookie season in the NFL is the same as it was entering his freshman season at Northwestern.
“Just work, work, work. When you’re a freshman, and in this case a rookie, you are seen and not heard,” Fisher said. “You study, you are the first one there and you are the last one to leave. You just work, study and see where it goes.”
If Fisher’s rookie season in the NFL is anything reminiscent of his redshirt freshman season at Northwestern, it will have been a resounding success.
Fisher remembers the hype around him after his first two years in Evanston. He insists that it was never anything more than white noise in the background.
Fisher returned in 2019 as a junior with the intention of leading Northwestern to a Big Ten Championship, deeming that goal more important than any future individual success at the NFL level.
However, things took a turn for the worse for the entire program in that 2019 season, as Northwestern disappointed by finishing 3-9 with a historically bad offense.
While everyone points to the dismal offense as the main deterrent to team success during Fisher’s junior year at Northwestern, the team-leading linebacker remains adamant that the defense did the offense no favors that season. Beyond the oft-mentioned lack of takeaways forced from their unit, Fisher claimed with conviction that he, and the defense as a whole, played extremely sloppy football.
“After 2018, we had landed ourselves a spot in Indianapolis for the title and won our division, and after that season we took the pedal off the gas a little bit.” Fisher said.
Fisher consistently received mid-round draft feedback throughout his collegiate career. He wanted to come back for the 2020 season to enjoy one last ride with his teammates, but also help boost his draft stock after a season where he was battled nagging injuries.
Entering the senior season, Fisher made a big change and began training with Kevin Barcal, who had worked with several NFL players in the past, including former Northwestern QB Brett Basanez. Barcal put Fisher through his first workout in April 2020.
“[Paddy got] about 40, 45 minutes in and then he had to go outside and puke,” Barcal said on their first workout together. “He came back and was like ‘Okay, yeah, you win. That was tough. I’m sold.’ That’s kinda how we started working from there.”
Fisher and Barcal worked together on explosiveness drills prior to last season’s original postponement. Once the Big Ten cancelled the 2020 season, Fisher went to train in Arizona. After the conference changed directions again, he returned to train with Barcal everyday for a month leading up to the season.
“[Paddy was] getting some rave reviews from the coaches when he came back with how good of shape he was in and how good his cardio was,” Barcal said.
According to Barcal, being a linebacker is all about the five-yard burst one needs to stick their foot in the ground and either run up to fill a gap, or drop back into coverage. With that in mind, the pair worked on a lot of quick-twitch, muscle fiber drills where Fisher worked on quick jumps.
Barcal also focused on trying to get Fisher out of the bad habit of being tired and getting sloppy in said moments.
“[Paddy] needed to keep recreating that force over and over again because how you play in the fourth quarter is really what is going to determine if you are going to be playing or not,” Barcal said. “It’s not about the first; everybody is fresh in the first. But can you make the same play in the fourth quarter that you do in the first?”
Barcal still thinks Fisher had a great senior season. It’s difficult to assess statistics within a nine-game sample size, but Fisher finished with a solid 86 tackles. In a 13-game season, Fisher would have been on track for 124 tackles which would have outpaced his career-high 113 tackles in his freshman season.
“[It was] very beneficial and very good for my performance on the field in 2020,” Fisher said about his training with Barcal. “I was very ecstatic to get back because I felt how explosive and how strong I felt in general after going to see him and heading into the 2020 season.”
A big knock on Fisher entering the draft is his pass coverage ability in the modern NFL, with almost every team lining up “five-wide” with a running back as an added-on receiver.
“It’s going to be odd for him because he didn’t play that in college and there’s a learning curve in the NFL,” Barcal said when talking about Fisher at the next level. “It’ll take him a little bit of time to get used to that, but once he gets accustomed to it, he will figure out where he can be and flourish in that role. We do a lot of that work where it’s working on him putting a foot down and backpedaling and getting to a location or a space so that he can be in the right area, so I think he just needs to get used to doing it.”
Fisher has a similar sentiment. He believes that he can be a three-down linebacker in the NFL because that’s what he was in four years at NU.
“I just need to fine tune some things physically, ” Fisher said. “ [I have] the mental part down. By no means do I think that I’m there, but I definitely do see myself as a three-down linebacker in years to come. It may not be right away, it may take a little time, but I definitely think in the years to come I will be [that three-down linebacker].”
Entering the draft, Fisher says that he has no expectations. Best case — he gets drafted. Worst case — Fisher doesn’t get taken, but reiterated that both him and his agent would not be worried. His college resume speaks for itself, and what he does from there on the field will speak for itself as well.
“I’ve beaten the living crap out of him and [Paddy] comes in the next day just as happy and just as ready to go the next day,” Barcal said. “I can pound on him for five days, and on Friday he’s just as happy as he was on Monday. Paddy’s natural leadership is something that any team would want. He’s a good guy to be around. A guy that you want to play for and play with.”
Barcal would like to see Fisher go to a successful organization that’s already equipped with a solid defensive coaching staff and has experience working with linebackers. He wants a team that will “articulate Paddy’s strong points … the fact that he is very football savvy. They will let him make tackles and make plays.”
In terms of a player comparison, Barcal mentioned former Penn State Linebacker Paul Posluszny, who was knocked for being a bigger linebacker who tackled well but just couldn’t move with the speed of the professionals, just like Fisher. Posluszy went on to have a 10-year career in the NFL.
Regardless of what happens at the next level, Fisher will always relish his role at Northwestern as a “team leader” in one of the most successful periods of Northwestern football in history. No matter what happens in both Fisher’s future in and outside of football, that will be his legacy in Evanston. And what a legacy it is.