The first-round draft choice out of Notre Dame is a quiet and attentive rookie in the classroom. Quarterback Brock Osweiler, who threw touchdown passes to Fuller in back-to-back preseason games, always expects to find the wide receiver in the front row of auditorium meetings.
“He takes a ton of notes, he’s always studying his playbook,” Osweiler said. “Whenever we get a break, a lot of guys go in the locker room and we’re socializing or we go grab a coffee over here in the cafeteria but Will’s in his playbook, he’s studying. He wants to be great and he’s always, always striving to be great.”
The Texans’ offseason overhaul of the offense — highlighted by signing Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller — also included the search for wide receivers. Fuller, a 6-foot-1, 172-pound deep threat who caught 29 touchdown passes the past two seasons for the Fighting Irish, was selected with the 21st overall choice. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller arrived in the third round, the same round that Jaelen Strong was chosen a year ago.
It doesn’t require much studying to recognize there’s an opportunity to make plays in this offense when Hopkins draws extra attention. The fourth-year pro made his first Pro Bowl last season after catching a career-high 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 TDs. In further evidence that his star is on the rise, Hopkins adorned this week’s cover of Sports Illustrated.
Hopkins is well aware of the need for other reliable pass catchers. And he gave props to Fuller after the rookie caught his first NFL touchdown pass in the second preseason game.
“Will had a real good night,” Hopkins said. “From his first preseason game to now, he made sure he got into the film room and saw some things he can work on and it showed.”
Fuller is convinced his off-field work has improved his on-field comfort zone as he transitions to the NFL.
“A lot more comfortable than I did when I first got here, but that’s how it always is,” he said. “Getting used to the playbook and just knowing my role and just doing everything the coaches ask of me.”
Osweiler calls Fuller “very special” and cornerback Kevin Johnson suggests “the sky’s the limit for him.” If there’s any concern, he showed a tendency to drop some easy passes in college. And he did have one bad drop of a deep pass that could have been another preseason touchdown. But it’s not like others need to remind him of the obvious. He’s his own worst critic, too.
When watching video of one of his catches, he’s quick to point out a fundamental flaw.
“Actually on this I’m wrong, so I’ve got to get up and fair catch that ball instead of taking that hit,” Fuller said. “Good coaching point for me and next time I’ll go up there and catch it.”
When another pass intended for him is intercepted, Fuller blames himself, although it didn’t appear to be his fault.
“I got to get my head around quicker on that one,” he said. “I’ll get back to work.”
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien likes what he’s seen from his young receivers so far. Strong and Miller each had a team-high 10 receptions in the exhibition games. Fuller was next with eight catches, but for significantly more yards (144) as well as the two scores.
“I think the fact that they’ve been out there every day – they really have not missed practice,” O’Brien said of Fuller and Miller. “I think Braxton might have missed one or two practices with a sore hamstring, but he’s been basically out there every day. Will’s been out there every single day, and as long as you’re out there every day and you have their work ethic, you’re going to get better, you’re going to develop. You’re going to make your share of mistakes but you’re going to learn from them and get better. Both of those guys have done that. We need them to have a good week of practice, and obviously they’ll see a lot of playing time against Chicago.”
The defending AFC South champion Texans open the regular season Sunday at home against the Chicago Bears at NRG Stadium.
Another advantage to settling in with the Texans is having another rookie receiver in Miller, who is learning and studying, too.
“In our offense, everybody can play every position,” Fuller said. “It’s good to know every position. I’m always communicating with Braxton. If he has more reps at a different position than I am, just asking him questions about a route that he may run more than I do.”
But from the start of training camp, it’s been Fuller who has opened more eyes with “wow” plays.
“I’m impressed by Will,” Strong said. “I’ve been impressed by Will my whole life. I’m just happy to be out here grinding with him.”