Healthy Fuller has se­condary on track to be team’s strength

Early star in train­ing camp steal­ing passes, turn­ing heads

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

On the Red­skins’ very first play of 7-on-7 drills Tues­day, Ken­dall Fuller swooped in front of Kirk Cousins’ pass and bat­ted the ball to the turf. In­com­plete. It’s a sight that has be­come fa­mil­iar here over the past week, as the sec­ond-year cor­ner­back has been an early star of train­ing camp.

Fuller has two things work­ing for him this Au­gust. First is his health, sec­ond his a fa­mil­iar coach to guide him in se­condary coach Tor­rian Gray. Not only is Fuller mak­ing plays, he’s re­laxed. This time around, camp is fun.

“I don’t have to worry about my in­jury no more, I can just go out there and play so I’m just look­ing to have fun and en­joy it,” Fuller said af­ter the Red­skins walk­through Tues­day.

Fuller hasn’t felt this way since 2015, when he went un­der the knife to re­pair a torn menis­cus. Doc­tors re­al­ized he also needed mi­crofrac­ture surgery, and Fuller missed his ju­nior and fi­nal col­lege sea­son and fell to the third round of the 2016 draft, where the Red­skins picked him.

Wash­ing­ton wanted, and planned, to take it slow with Fuller, but in­juries thrust the rookie into a sig­nif­i­cant role. Fuller played in 13 games and started six last sea­son, mostly play­ing in the slot. He showed prom­ise, but also what looked like rookie grow­ing pains. Fuller didn’t let on that he was hurt­ing dur­ing the sea­son, but ear­lier this off­sea­son coach Jay Gru­den es­ti­mated that Fuller had been play­ing at around “85 or 90” per­cent in 2016.

Tues­day, Fuller ad­mit­ted that he felt a no­tice­able dif­fer­ence in how his knee feels.

“It def­i­nitely feels bet­ter just hav­ing that whole off­sea­son to re­cover and things like that, re­ally able to slow the process down,” Fuller said. “It def­i­nitely feels bet­ter.”

It’ll be great news for the Red­skins if full health helps Fuller be­come a plus player at cor­ner­back. You can never have too many good ones, af­ter all, and be­hind Josh Nor­man the Red­skins group is a bit sus­pect. If Bashaud Bree­land re­cov­ers from a shaky 2016 and Fuller plays bet­ter, Wash­ing­ton will have a strong group. If not, they won’t.

Knee in­juries of­ten hin­der a player’s abil­ity to turn on a dime and make quick cuts, but Fuller said he felt fine in those ar­eas. His tape wasn’t per­fect by any means but, by putting him in the slot, the Red­skins in­di­cated that they felt he was ser­vice­able in those ar­eas, too. It was his speed, Fuller said, that he wasn’t as con­fi­dent in last sea­son.

“I just couldn’t do cer­tain things at the pace that I wanted to do it,” Fuller said. “Move­ments and stuff I was fine, but when I was able to slow it down, get bet­ter, get more ex­plo­sive this year and get that ex­tra step back,” Fuller said.

Fuller’s game doesn’t rely on speed and he’s not ex­cep­tion­ally fast. Los­ing a step at the NFL level, though, is costly for any player no mat­ter their skillset. Fuller feel­ing faster should give the Red­skins more con­fi­dence that they could move him out­side if Bree­land stum­bles, too.

Fuller has looked strong and phys­i­cal, able to jam re­ceivers in­clud­ing Ter­relle Pryor and knock them off their tim­ing on a few oc­ca­sions.

“He just looks health­ier,” coach Jay Gru­den said Tues­day. “I wouldn’t say he looks health­ier – he was healthy last year, He was able to play – but I think he’s more con­fi­dent in the in­jury that he’s com­ing off of. He looks stronger, he looks faster, so it’s good to see. He’s mov­ing around also, he’s play­ing some nickel, play­ing some cor­ner, and he’s do­ing a fine job.”

Fuller has also shown his ex­cel­lent ball skills dur­ing camp, in­clud­ing on Mon­day when he broke up a pass in the red zone in­tended for re­ceiver Brian Quick, who is con­ser­va­tively listed at four inches taller than Fuller. Over­all, Fuller broke up three passes in the red zone dur­ing that ses­sion and his suc­cess revved up the de­fense.

Last Thursday, Fuller picked off Kirk Cousins and Nate Sud­feld in an­other im­pres­sive prac­tice. Every time Fuller makes a play, he has a vo­cal cheer­leader in new Red­skins se­condary coach Tor­rian Gray, his old po­si­tion coach at Vir­ginia Tech who coached Fuller dur­ing his All-Amer­i­can sea­son in 2014.

“I love it, man, just his en­ergy that he brings to the ta­ble, the way that he’s push­ing us every day so he’s just go­ing to keep on push­ing us,” Fuller said. “He’s hav­ing fun with it and we’re all en­joy­ing it.”

Fuller knew Gray would spend a lot of time “harp­ing on the lit­tle things” from work­ing with the for­mer Vir­ginia Tech coach in col­lege, but Fuller said he’s seen the rest of the se­condary de­velop trust in Gray as they’ve no­ticed pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence re­sult­ing from his de­tail-ori­ented meth­ods.

“He’s go­ing to let you play ball, let you do you but at the same time you know, he has some things that’ll make you a bet­ter player,” Fuller said.

Health and coach­ing are two things that typ­i­cally do make play­ers bet­ter. As of now, Fuller has both.


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