With a full offseason of health, cornerback Kendall Fuller came into his own in 2017, co-leading the Redskins in interceptions and emerging as one of the best at his position in the league.
Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller had a lot of things going for him entering the 2017 season.
For starters, the team hired Torrian Gray, Fuller's former defensive backs coach at Virginia Tech, to take over the Washington secondary. Then consider that Fuller had a full offseason of health after missing the entirety of OTAs to start his rookie year recovering from knee surgery. Fuller looked faster and more confident in training camp, forecasting his ascent as one of the best cornerbacks in the league in his sophomore year.
"For me, it was just a big offseason last offseason," Fuller said. "Really, just being able to slow my recovery process down, kind of focus on the little things and not rush it, not trying to just like hurry up and get back on the field. So, just being able to slow it down, just focusing on that was big for me."
Primarily playing the nickel cornerback position, which requires the versatility to cover some of the quickest receivers on the field, Fuller co-led the team with four interceptions (he had none in his rookie season) and eclipsed his tackle total from last year with 55, playing in all 16 games. Last year's third-round pick also collected 10 passes defensed and a forced fumble, becoming a nuisance for quarterbacks and receivers over the middle of the field.
Fuller said he has no preoccupations with playing there again next year, a decision that will likely emerge out of how he competes during the spring and summer against his teammates. He's aware of the stigma surrounding the differences in the position (outside corners typically are held in higher esteem for their ability to match up with top wide receivers) but has no preference in where he lines up.
"I know a lot of people look at it [like] slot and corner, but for me, it's kind of just football, just going out there and playing," Fuller said. "So, it's kind of the same thing, for real."
Gray's presence certainly helped with Fuller's comfort level. Focusing heavily on technique, Gray reminded Fuller of their time as Hokies, game planning and focusing on each opponent like they used to do in Blacksburg, Va.
Fuller noticed just a small difference in the way Gray, two years removed from coaching at Virginia Tech, instructed his professional players.
"In college, you know, you can get on guys a lot, but in the league, it's kind of a little bit different coaching style, so that was kind of funny for me to see, because I'm used to him being at [Virginia] Tech getting on guys," Fuller said. "So, that was funny to see."
Gray's help was evident, and Fuller continued to excel as the season progressed. His strong play often dictated the way a game would end up, too. Each of Fuller's four interceptions came in victories, and some of his biggest games – like his four-tackle and interception performance against the Seahawks – saw him make plays at crucial moments.
The body of work was enough for Pro Football Focus to rank him the seventh best cornerback in the league this season with a 90.0 overall grade. Heading into the final week of the season, when Fuller had been targeted, he allowed a passer rating of 51.1, the fifth-best mark among all cornerbacks in 2017.
"I'm just excited to go into the offseason just being able to focus on everything, not just focusing particularly on my knee," Fuller said. "And then, kind of just studying myself, watching myself on film, just seeing what I need to get better at."
The defense still struggled throughout the year as the injuries piled up along the defensive line and linebacker positions, putting more burdens on the secondary. Fuller is hopeful that the development of Fabian Moreau and Montae Nicholson, along with the return of Quinton Dunbar and Josh Norman, the Redskins secondary can take another step forward.
"I feel like we just got to reach our potential," Fuller said. "I feel like we haven't got there yet. Just all the talent that we have, there's no reason why we can't be one of the top groups in the league. So, we just got to work, kind of gel together and just hit the ground running once the season starts."