Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 30, 2017

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

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Page 50 of 55 OCT. 30, 2017 51 IRISH IN THE PROS BY COREY BODDEN I t only took one game in 2017 for wide receiver Will Fuller to equal his touchdown production from his debut NFL season in 2016. But it wasn't smooth sailing to begin the campaign for the second-year player. Fuller caught 47 passes for 635 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games last year. The former Irish star wideout was looking to up his pro- duction in year two, but he suffered a setback during training camp. Fuller broke his collarbone in Au- gust while the Texans were at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. The injury forced him to miss the rest of training camp, the preseason and the first three games of the regular season. The Texans welcomed Fuller back in week four against the Tennessee Titans and the 6-0, 180-pounder pro- vided an instant spark to the Hous- ton offense for rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. Against the Titans, Fuller caught four passes for 35 yards and two touchdowns while the Texans cruised to a 57-14 victory Oct. 1. He followed that up with another two-touchdown performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in a 42-34 loss Oct. 8, finishing with two catches for 57 yards. Fuller became the second player in Texans history to score two or more receiving touchdowns in back-to- back games, joining Andre Johnson. "Having Will back, we've talked about whenever you have all your weapons, especially a guy who can stretch the field and do things like he can, as well as being a good route runner, certainly has helped us," Tex- ans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan told "We've played well in the last few weeks." In his first three games this sea- son, Fuller caught eight passes for 154 yards and five touchdowns on 14 targets. The rising star added another touchdown and 62 yards receiving on two catches in a 33-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns Oct. 15. His return provided a vertical threat to keep teams from focusing solely on DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans' No. 1 wide receiver. Fuller's start to his season didn't catch Hop- kins off guard. "Will put the work in [during] the offseason, so it's no surprise to me that he's doing what he's doing now," Hopkins told "The way he worked, the way he re- habbed to come back. "It's not easy to come back from a broken collarbone but that goes to show how much he wants to win and who he is as a person." Having Fuller back on the field gives Watson another option as he scans the field and make his life eas- ier for the rookie quarterback. "Our relationship is really, really good," Watson said of Fuller. "He put in a lot of time to get back and espe- cially when I was still learning the offense, I spent a lot of time with him kind of working him back, throwing him the ball and getting on the same page." Houston averaged 17.67 points per game in its first three contests of the season without Fuller, but in Full- er 's three appearances the Houston offense was up to 41.33 points per game. Fuller was already second on the team in receiving touchdowns with five, just behind Hopkins who had six. Fuller averaged just more than 6.5 targets per game — 92 total in 14 games — last season and was at 4.67 after three appearances in 2017. He will continue to have more opportu- nities to stretch defenses as he gets more acclimated with Watson and being back on the field. "[Fuller] just takes the top off," Watson told The Houston Chronicle. "You have to respect that as a de- fense, so you're either going to have a safety to play deep or he's going to take two guys with him and that's going to create an opening in the defense. "Being able to have a guy like that who can stretch the defense out and open up the underneath routes is big." ✦ Will Fuller's Return Provides Spark To Houston Offense NOTRE DAME IN THE NFL: Week Six Highlights • Troy Niklas (Played at Notre Dame from 2011-13), TE, Arizona Cardinals: Caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown in a 38-33 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. • Kyle Rudolph (2008-10), TE, Minnesota Vikings: Hauled in five receptions for 47 yards in a 23-10 win over the Green Bay Packers. • Harrison Smith (2007-11), S, Minnesota Vikings: Registered five tackles, 1.5 sacks and a one- handed interception in the fourth quarter during the 23-10 victory versus the Packers. • Golden Tate (2007-09), WR, Detroit Lions: Notched seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown in a 52-38 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Fuller notched five touchdown receptions in his first three games of 2017 after returning from a broken collarbone. PHOTO COURTESY HOUSTON TEXANS

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