Sarah Barshop, ESPN Staff Writer 68d

Will Fuller's return opens up field and playbook for Texans

HOUSTON — Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller was sidelined for more than eight weeks with a broken collarbone, unable to even practice until Sept. 18. And although he couldn't work on the field with rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson for most of that time, the two found time to run routes late into the evening while Fuller was rehabbing and recovering from surgery.

“[Fuller has] been able to do some drills behind the scenes," coach Bill O'Brien said. "He wasn’t cleared to practice or anything, but he could run routes and Deshaun would be there with him right here in the stadium after hours, so to speak, and throwing routes with him.”

Added Watson: “Even when he was not playing with us and he was out recovering, he was always around. He never took a day off. While we’re at practice, he’s right there beside Coach OB [O’Brien] and [wide receivers coach John] Perry and just helping all the young guys out. Will does a great job. He’s smart. Very, very talented. And he’s a great teammate, and he’s been doing a good job.”

Fuller's extra work paid off Sunday night in the Texans’ 57-14 rout of the Tennessee Titans, when he had four catches for 35 yards and two touchdowns in Houston’s best offensive game in franchise history.

But Fuller’s return was bigger than his contribution on the stat sheet. The young wide receiver’s speed and presence on the field gave the Texans another offensive threat, which helped open up the field and playbook for Houston.

“You can’t just key in on me,” wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. “You have to, obviously, watch Will [Fuller] down the field every play, because he has the speed that you can’t coach.”

On Sunday, Hopkins had a season-high 10 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Last season, Fuller got off to a fast start, opening with back-to-back games of 100-plus receiving yards. He slowed down as the season progressed while dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out for two games. Fuller finished his rookie season with 47 catches for 635 yards and two touchdowns. The receiver said he’s already seeing the work he did last season and the offseason to learn more about how defenses will attack him pay off.

“I’m trying to play fast like always, just a little smarter because it’s my second year,” Fuller said. “I know more things about defenses and how they’ll play me. I’m just out there trying to help the team win.

“[It’s] not that much easier, we’re playing against some great opponents, [but] it’s just enough to give me an advantage.”

The Texans have missed key offensive players in the first quarter of the season. In addition to Fuller, the Texans put tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz on injured reserve (concussion), and wide receiver Bruce Ellington and tight ends Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson missed time in the concussion protocol.

Now with Fuller back, the Texans have seen what they were missing from the offense while he was out.

“He’s a really good route runner,” O’Brien said. “He’s a tough guy. Obviously, great speed. You can line him up anywhere, he knows what to do at every position. Very smart player. Very calm guy. Never gets rattled. Just really good to have him back in there.”

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