Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 17, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 50 of 55 OCT. 17, 2016 51 IRISH IN THE PROS BY MATT JONES H ouston Texans rookie wide re‑ ceiver Will Fuller is continuing his torrid start to his professional ca‑ reer. And he's doing it with speed, just like he did at Notre Dame from 2013‑15. The 6‑0, 182‑pound Fuller ran the fastest 40‑yard dash among wide receivers at the Combine (4.32 sec‑ onds). He's also translating that speed to the field. According to STACK, a Houston‑ area training facility that Fuller at‑ tends, the rookie receiver hit an in‑ credible foot speed of 21.62 miles per hour on his game‑winning 67‑yard punt return for a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans Oct. 2. That mark was faster than any other ball carrier in the NFL that week. Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, whose team was pre‑ paring for a week‑five matchup with the Texans, told reporters how he felt about Fuller. "It's nerve‑racking to say the least," Zimmer said of Fuller's speed. "He is a big‑play receiver and he's doing a great job. But you know all guys with speed bother DBs. "That's the first thing they look at when they get on tape. How fast is a guy? How quick do they have to get out of their backpedal?" Fuller, drafted in the first round after three stellar years in South Bend, had 19 catches for 323 yards (17.0‑yard average) and two touch‑ downs in the first four games. He was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his perfor‑ mance against the Titans. Pro Football Focus, which grades every play of every game and is one of the most trusted scouting services in football, ranked Fuller as the fifth‑ best rookie through four games. "Will's early success isn't because of luck," Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler told reporters. "It's a prod‑ uct of his work ethic and who he is as a person. He's done such a great job. A lot of players leave during the summer [for vacation], but Will stayed here. "He didn't take a single rep off in camp. And you know how hot it gets in Houston." Fuller 's punt return against the Titans sealed the fate of the man re‑ sponsible for defending against such a score. One day after the game, the Titans reacted by firing special teams coach Bobby April. It was such a routine score — Fuller simply cut to his left and up the sideline, not even needing to break a single tackle. "The blockers set it up perfectly," Fuller said. "All I had to do was run. It was wide open and [Texans run‑ ning back Alfred] Blue just led me into the end zone. "Once you break the first couple of outside gunners, it has a chance. It was wide open so I knew something good was going to happen." Fuller led Houston in targets (34), receptions (19), receiving yards (323), and is tied with star DeAndre Hop‑ kins in touchdown catches (two). Fuller became just the second rookie (DeSean Jackson is the other) with 100‑plus receiving yards in his first two games as a pro. He's also the first rookie in league history with 300‑ plus receiving yards and a punt re‑ turn touchdown through four games. "I know that sounds crazy to you guys, but he's got a long way to go," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "He can improve in so many differ‑ ent areas. If you just have a guy that can just run straight ahead and run go routes, that's one thing relative to a guy that can do that plus have a pretty expansive route tree, that's another thing. That's what we're try‑ ing to work with Will. "This is what we were hoping from him early on — to be productive. He's a very bright guy, very hard‑ working guy. The college program he comes from trains him very well." ✦ Will Fuller Off To Fast Start Fuller compiled 19 catches for 323 yards (17.0 yards per reception) and two touchdowns in his first four games as a professional. PHOTO COURTESY HOUSTON TEXANS NOTRE DAME IN THE NFL: WEEK FOUR HIGHLIGHTS • Michael Floyd (Played at Notre Dame from 2008‑11), WR, Arizona Cardinals: Had three catches on seven targets for 36 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. • Kyle Rudolph (2008‑10), TE, Minnesota Vikings: Had five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown against the Giants … Now has three touchdowns in four games. • Zack Martin (2009‑13), OL, Dallas Cow‑ boys: Started at right guard in a win over the 49ers. Pro Football Focus rated the Cowboys' offensive line as the fifth-best in football. "Zack Martin is one of the league's best guards, and the tape from week four provides a perfect example as to why he's earned that distinction," PFF noted. "Dallas averaged 10.6 yards per carry on runs that went either side of Martin's block, and his ability to execute within the Cowboys' zone runs was a thing of beauty."

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