This is the time of year beat reporters live for. They have all the control and all the power. Like kittens at the tit, we are at the mercy of their snippets of reporting. Waiting for some content to guzzle down, we read stories about the Texans being excited about Christian Covington, Romeo Crennel restoring bite to the Texans’ defense, and Tyrann Mathieu’s leadership. And if we are lucky, we get a cozy little feature piece like this to nuzzle:
But now, here, he’s in charge. He’s done so much already in chemistry class. He rented a big suite for one of the Copa America games at NRG Stadium in the summer and invited everyone on the team; most came. He footed the bill for all the receivers to come to Phoenix and work out with him during the spring at his alma mater, Arizona State. He brought the other quarterbacks and their significant others to his home in Idaho for a few days of R&R and football talk.
And he seems so comfortable with being The Man, as if he’s been in training for it while in Denver, and even before that. He gestures decisively on the practice field in training camp and approaches DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller with (sometimes) pointed words about the route they just ran. He throws extra balls to the rookies if they haven’t had enough reps, even with the heat index at 120 degrees. “He is the kind of player and leader you want in your starting quarterback,” said GM Rick Smith, watching Osweiler practice on Sunday. “You have to have a presence as a starting quarterback in the NFL, and he has it. The word I use about him is ‘authentic.’ He fits the position, and he fits us.”
I have nothing against these kinds of stories. This is what we get this time of year, and none of it is going to matter. So instead of devouring each little Kevin Johnson goal line interception or getting giddy over Justin Reid’s aggression, it’s best to look at last year and the offseason to extrapolate information into 2018 as best we can. Until we get new tape, new numbers and new schemes in action, this is the best we got when it comes to football analysis.
However, we humans always like a good narrative. I’m no different. Every year, I get sucked into one. This year, it’s Will Fuller V bulking up to 185 pounds. Coming out of college, Fuller V was the speed of light. He was a great route runner and a dynamic player. In the professional game, he’s been exactly that, but the two biggest negatives he had coming out of college have plagued him as well—catching ability and the size required to be durable in the NFL.
The hands criticism hasn’t been erroneous. Fuller still struggles at high-pointing the ball and working the shorter ends of the field, but it doesn’t matter as much when you can outrun someone by ten yards.
The durability issue has been more troubling. Since he was selected by the Texans in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Fuller V has started 23 of a possible 32 games. He had minor knee surgery after suffering a knee injury in Week 17 last season. He cracked his ribs. He broke his collarbone last summer. He battled hamstring issues his rookie season.
That was the old Fuller V. The new Fuller V is thick. He’s 185 pounds of Top Thrill Dragster. He’s running up sand dunes. He has newfound biceps. This is what Aaron Wilson reported during training camp:
In a concerted effort to upgrade his durability, the former first-round draft pick from Notre Dame has put on a significant amount of muscle this offseason.
He’s particularly thicker in his upper body.
Fuller says he now weighs 185 pounds, an increase of 15 to 20 pounds from last season, through his work with new strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson and team nutritionists.
”Staying healthy is the big thing, so putting on a couple of pounds will help me with that,” Fuller said Saturday afternoon. “It’s working out with the new guys we have here, the nutrition, it helped me a lot.
”It’s always been hard for me to gain weight but this offseason I’ve actually gained it easier than I thought. I actually feel good, too. It’s not as far as what I eat, it’s just eating consistently and lifting consistently.”
Fuller said he has avoided increasing the poundage of his lifts too much, following the instructions of the staff closely. It’s obvious by watching Fuller that he remains as explosive as ever. Fuller has run the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds and is one of, if not, the fastest player on the Texans’ roster.
Fuller has put on quality weight.
”Just another coat, so I can take those hits and I can be more versatile,” Fuller said. “That’s something you have to keep working on with your speed as you’re gaining weight. I’m not fat now, so I’m still fast.”
Entering his third NFL season, Fuller has caught 75 passes for 1,058 yards and nine touchdowns. He was limited to 28 receptions for 423 yards and seven scores last season as he was held to 10 games due to a broken collarbone and the knee injury.
Fuller underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in January and has made a full recovery. He’ll start opposite All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins this season.
”That’s one of the big things is he’s improved his strength level, his body weight,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “It takes time. You come from college to the pros and everything’s new relative to nutrition and the weight room and things like that. So, I think he’s really done a good job of buying into what Luke is talking about in the weight room.
This is all I care about for the rest of summer. If Fuller V can stay healthy for an entire season, this offense has the potential to stave off some of that expected nasty regression. With the amount of attention devoted to DeAndre Hopkins, Houston has to have a receiver who can stretch the field in one-on-one situations and split the safeties. If not, Houston’s offense becomes a lot of flat throwing and Nuk force-feeding.
We saw what happened last year when both Hopkins and Fuller are healthy with competent quarterback play. In limited action, Fuller V had a touchdown rate of 25% for the entire 2017 season, catching seven touchdowns on thirteen receptions when Watson was on the field. If Fuller’s added weight leads to better durability and health, last season’s six game joy ride could become sixteen games of diabolical hell unleashed.