Competitive athletes don't love discussing their injuries. The discomfort rises if the malady isn’t severe enough to keep them from playing.
Good enough to put on the uniform means good enough to play and produce. That's the general mantra. It’s the tale Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller tells when asked about his rookie season.
It’s just not the whole story.
The Baltimore native received some first-round NFL draft projections while at Virginia Tech, but that was before microfracture surgery on his right knee wiped out his junior season. The Redskins liked his potential and selected Fuller in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft. He missed chunks of rookie camp and other offseason workouts, but participated in training camp and gamely played in 13 regular season games.
Though he flashed his sincere potential at times, Fuller’s overall first campaign involved as many struggles as positives. Pro Football Focus, a leading NFL analytics site, graded Fuller 90th out of 111 cornerbacks last season. Quarterbacks throwing at Washington’s primary slot defender succeeded at a high rate.
They might not find things so easy in 2017. That’s because Fuller is feeling fine physically heading into his second season -- the opposite of this time last year.
"I think his confidence in his body, number one," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of the changes in Fuller at the team’s mini-camp practice earlier this month. "Just talking to him … I think he feels a lot better with where he is physically and that’s important obviously for a DB. We probably pushed him a little bit too hard. He felt good, but I don’t think he was really quite his 100 percent self.
"He was good enough to play, he’s a tough guy, he’ll fight through anything, but I think this year he feels like the strength is back. He’s got a little bit more speed and quickness and I think you’ll see a better player."
Fuller offered a similar synopsis during a conversation with NBCWashington.com following the first day of minicamp. Nearly all of responses during the brief interview included some mention of feeling physically adequate. Those mentions were not about justifying his rookie performance, but simply stating matter-of-fact reality.
"I don’t get into whether I was 100 percent. This year I’m just feeling better, stronger, faster," said the no-excuses defender. "If I’m out there, I’m expected to make plays. At the end of the day, that’s what I’ve got to do."
The most tangible aspect of feeling better for Fuller is "moving at a faster pace," he said. "I was able to do the same things last year, but now do it at a faster pace."
Improving isn’t just about the physical, but the mental. That’s where a familiar face helps.
Washington changed defensive back coaches this offseason. Torrian Gray served in that same capacity at Virginia Tech during Fuller’s time in the college ranks. The old/new coach brought a recognizable message for his former/current player.
"He’s teaching us the fundamentals. That’s what he’s about," Fuller said. "He wants us to learn football. Know everything about the game. That’s what he’s all about."
Keeping up with playmaking slot receivers in the NFC East alone – New York’s Sterling Shepard, Cole Beasley, Jordan Matthews -- represents a challenge for able-bodied defensive back.
Fuller is ready to show what he’s all about in his second season. Because of his college injury, he couldn’t quite during that during his rookie year. That’s the reality whether Fuller wants to admit that or not – and he doesn’t.
"Really just being out there and getting some reps," he said of his initial goals during practices. "My main focus is just getting healthy and going out there and playing ball."
Starting in late July when the Redskins gather for training camp in Richmond, Fuller can do just that and feel good about it.