- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2017

ASHBURN — Kendall Fuller smiled and raised his voice after Josh Norman ignored his needling Monday.

“You gotta be quicker than that,” the young cornerback repeated, this time at a higher pitch — making sure his mentor, a couple of lockers down, got the jibe.

“You trash!” Norman shot back.

The two laughed.

Four days after grabbing a game-sealing interception in the final minute of the Redskins’ 20-10 win over the New York Giants on Thanksgiving, a happy Fuller was still relishing talking smack with Norman, the star of the Redskins secondary.

In the post-game locker room, Norman said he tried to make his own move on that same errant Eli Manning throw. Fuller just got there first.

“I was like, ‘Dang!’” Norman said.

The pick capped off an excellent night for the secondary, particularly Fuller, who was lauded by NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth as one of the best slot corners in the NFL.

Sounds about right, according to Fuller’s coach.

“Of course. If Collinsworth said something positive, I’m going to agree with him,” Jay Gruden said, laughing.

Being considered among the league’s best is a highly subjective call, but Collinsworth might not be far off the mark — Fuller, the Redskins’ third-round pick in 2016, has taken big strides forward this year.

“He’s the unsung hero on the defense,” Norman said. “The other day, I talked about him for five minutes straight. Because he always seems to be in that place where when the ball is in the air, he’s gonna be there. It’s just great to see him grow up before our very eyes.”

Fuller, drafted out of Virginia Tech two years ago, spent this offseason focusing on two tasks: getting healthy and getting better.

Like Jonathan Allen earlier this year, Fuller fell to the Redskins in the draft over health concerns. The cornerback, who missed all but three games in his last year at Tech with a torn meniscus, required offseason micro-fracture surgery.

As a rookie, he didn’t play until Week 4 with the Redskins being cautious with his recovery. But in his first nine games, Fuller played no fewer than 43 percent of the snaps. He took a smaller role in the final four games, once the Redskins’ secondary got healthier.

This year, Fuller showed up to OTAs and training camp and quickly caught the attention of the coaching staff. Fuller said he focused on getting his explosiveness back and worked on his first step, planting and driving.

In camp, Fuller beat out Quinton Dunbar to be the team’s nickel corner.

Now, the 22-year-old is leading the Redskins with four interceptions.

“He’s always been a very smart guy,” Gruden said. “He studies the game tape. He’s very good at leverages. I think he’s running better this year. He’s playing with a lot more confidence. He studies the film extremely well. He’s prepared mentally, and physically I think he’s at a point now where he feels really good.”

Fuller’s affinity for studying came in handy against the Giants. The Redskins had only four days to prepare and only participated in walkthroughs, meaning a lot of the preparation was mental.

The veterans in the Redskins secondary have played a role in Fuller’s progress, too. Fuller said having Norman and the others in the film room “is definitely beneficial.”

“Just that mindset, [Norman] brings every day — he’s a competitor,” Fuller said. “Anybody who lines up in front of him, his mindset is just attack and go at you. That’s the mindset that our whole defense wants to carry.”

This season, Fuller has done the same. Against the Giants, he even beat Norman to the punch.

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