Fi­nally healthy, Fuller im­presses coaches

Col­lege in­jury lin­gered as rookie

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

The first-round-ta­lent-who-falls-due-to-in­jury of­ten oc­cu­pies an im­per­fect place in the minds of fans and an­a­lysts. It’s tan­ta­liz­ing to project where that first-round po­ten­tial could take a player even­tu­ally but, some­times, those pro­jec­tions make it easy to for­get that, first, the player has to be healthy.

Ken­dall Fuller ex­pe­ri­enced a bit of this in 2016 when, per Jay Gru­den’s es­ti­mate, the de­fen­sive back was play­ing at about “85-90” per­cent. Fuller is healthy now, so the Red­skins are hop­ing they’ll see more of that po­ten­tial re­al­ized this up­com­ing sea­son.

“I think he feels a lot bet­ter with where he is phys­i­cally and that’s im­por­tant ob­vi­ously for a DB,” Gru­den said. “We prob­a­bly pushed him a lit­tle bit too hard. He felt good, but I don’t think he was re­ally quite his 100 per­cent self.

“He was good enough to play, he’s a tough guy, he’ll fight through any­thing, but I think this year he feels like the strength is back.”

Fuller tore his right menis­cus as a ju­nior at Vir­ginia Tech, his last year in col­lege, and wound up need­ing mi­crofrac­ture surgery as well. Dr. James An­drews, who operated on Fuller, re­al­ized mi­crofrac­ture surgery was nec­es­sary when he went in to op­er­ate on Fuller’s menis­cus.

Fuller had only been able to play three games his last year with the Hok­ies and dropped to the third round of the 2016 draft in large part be­cause of the in­jury. Ini­tially, the Red­skins felt they’d lucked out and were happy to ease Fuller slowly into the de­fense.

Due to injuries and his own prom­ise, Fuller wound up play­ing in 13 games and start­ing six of them last sea­son. Fuller ended up play­ing 43 per­cent of the Red­skins de­fen­sive snaps over­all but, be­tween weeks four and 12, he was used heav­ily.

In 13 games and six starts, Fuller de­fended two passes and made 40 tack­les. Over­all, he strug­gled in cov­er­age, and the Red­skins did not get what they wanted out of him.

The Red­skins were ask­ing for a lot. Fuller took on A.J. Green, Ste­fon Diggs, Jordy Nel­son and

Dez Bryant, some of whom were hid­ing in the slot from Josh Nor­man.

Slot cor­ner is also a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion to pick up quickly. As a gen­eral rule, the closer a player lines up to the mid­dle of the for­ma­tion, the greater the men­tal de­mand to in­ter­nal­ize scheme and op­po­nents’ ten­den­cies. More of­ten, a slot cor­ner works with­out the ben­e­fit of the side­line nearby and, when as­sign­ments can cut in both di­rec­tions, joint health is es­pe­cially crit­i­cal.

Fuller said all the right things. As a player, he wasn’t used to strug­gling or go­ing through a dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion to a higher level of play.

“You know, he came in as a fresh­man [in col­lege] and he was big-time right away. You could see that he was a special player,” said de­fen­sive backs coach Tor­rian Gray, who held the same po­si­tion at Vir­ginia Tech from 2006-15 and over­lapped with Fuller.

“Un­for­tu­nately, he had the in­jury at Vir­ginia Tech and, just to see him evolve on this level, the Ken­dall Fuller from last year that I see on film is go­ing to be, con­sid­er­ing that he’s healthy, is go­ing to be a lot dif­fer­ent Ken­dall Fuller this year. So it’s fun to see him get back to be­ing healthy and be the guy I know he can be.”

Gru­den said that Fuller is faster and quicker. In off­sea­son prac­tices, Fuller showed some stick­i­ness cover­ing Jami­son Crow­der, a very good sign. He col­lected a few pass breakups and as­sisted a few other big plays.

Fuller has a lot to prove, as does the Red­skins de­fense as a whole. He was put in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion last sea­son, though. Now, his cir­cum­stances have im­proved some­what, with Fuller’s health be­ing the most im­por­tant fac­tor.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Red­skins de­fen­sive back Ken­dall Fuller de­fended two passes and made 40 tack­les as a rookie last sea­son.

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