Texans WR Will Fuller: 'I have to play 16 games to prove myself'

HOUSTON -- Not long after Houston Texans receiver Will Fuller tore his ACL last October, he turned to the internet.

He searched for players who had come back from the same injury and how they played when they returned to action. The number of players “who came back and balled” reassured Fuller that as long as he put the work in during his rehab, he would be fine.

A few of those players were people he knew well: teammates Deshaun Watson and Aaron Colvin and former teammate Jaelen Strong. Fuller said he leaned on those friends, especially because “in the beginning, it was real tough.” When the season starts, it will be nearly 10 months since the injury.

“I was just telling him to stay in it, to stay in the fight,” Strong said. “There’s going to be tough days and all that. But I’m just glad to see him back out there.”

Added Colvin: “I was just transparent with him. I just told him my struggles and the things that were tough for me. I just tried to help him stay ahead of the situation. He’s a hell of a player, and I know the type of player he is. I just tried to give him tips to help him get back to where he was before.”

Fuller was back on the field at the start of training camp, appearing to take part in all team activities without limitations. The fourth-year receiver said he had a tough time with the rehab, but “putting in consistent work” since his surgery and during the offseason had him “feeling good” heading into camp. He said he although he still has progress to make, he feels like is just as fast as he was before the injury.

That’s important for the Texans’ offense, which is no doubt significantly better when Fuller plays.

“He’s a threat every time he steps on the field,” Watson said.

But although Fuller clearly has the talent to make an impact for the Texans’ offense, he knows he must make sure he can stay on the field as Houston is relying on the speedy receiver to fill out what could be a balanced and potent passing attack.

Since Fuller was drafted by the Texans in the first round in 2016, he has played in just 31 games. He missed time with a broken collarbone and hamstring injuries along with the ACL tear last October.

Fuller, who played in 14 games his rookie season but hasn’t played in more than 10 in the two seasons since, said he believes he has to play in all 16 regular-season games this year “to prove myself.”

When Fuller has played, particularly when he’s been on the field with Watson, he has shown how dangerous of a weapon he can be. In 31 games, Fuller has 107 catches for 1,561 yards and 13 touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, Watson and Fuller have combined for 11 touchdowns on just 45 completions, which is “the highest touchdown rate among qualifying pairs since 2006."

“Will [Fuller] is a big part of what we're doing,” Texans wide receivers coach John Perry said. “Even sometimes when the defense is playing deep or something like that, he's the guy who can – it seems like a salmon swimming upstream, but he somehow finds a way and still gets behind the defense.”

Even though Fuller spent his offseason rehabbing, Perry noted the improvements the receiver has made since the end of his season. Entering the 2018 season, Perry believed Fuller had made a big jump with his play strength, making sure that in “contested ball situations and things like that, he was able to really adjust to the ball and play through things and play through some contact, which had been a problem for him in the past.”

While the focus will be Fuller’s health entering this season, Perry also believes Fuller has improved as a route runner, which will allow the coaching staff to “be able to incorporate a lot more” of the receiver into the offense.

“I've always said if Will can have a healthy, 16-game season, he's going to help us win a lot of games, and he's going to be a very productive player,” O’Brien said. “He works very hard [and is a] very smart player.”

ESPN NFL Nation reporter Jake Trotter contributed to this story.