Whether it’s the NFL, business or just life in general, some years are just like that. As Kyle Fuller is finding out.
About this time a year ago, the Bears cornerback was the rookie No. 1 draft pick, coming off a two-interception game in Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers that earned him the honor of NFC Defensive Player of the Week. John Fox singled Fuller out for mention as one of the building blocks of the Bears’ defense after Fox became Bears head coach.
Then came the 2015 preseason in which Fuller struggled with assignments, tackling and other parts of what had appeared to be an elite-level skill set, in addition to appearing to lose focus and composure at times. The bottom came in Chicago when Fuller was benched in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals in favor of seldom-used backup Terrance Mitchell.
That was followed a day later by respected veteran safety Antrel Rolle in a radio interview suggesting that Fuller needed to become a true professional and be a true student of film. The obvious implication was that Fuller was neither, yet.
“There is no magic potion out there,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.” You gotta go out there, experience success, do your job, break up a pass or two, you know, be tight to your man, make the plays when they come to you, and the more he does that, the more confidence he will get.”
Since then, the messages appear to have registered and the confidence has indeed begun to re-emerge even as some of the criticism was stinging.
“He’s definitely grown up the last couple of weeks,” said cornerback Tracy Porter. “He’s been accepting the challenges that’ve been put in front of him. People were harping on him, saying he’s been struggling.
“But I don’t see it. These last couple weeks he’s been doing a tremendous job.”
That job has included seven tackles, over the three games since Arizona.
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What it hasn’t included has been a lot of effusive assessment of his performances:
“It’s been cool, hasn’t been much different,” Fuller said. “I haven’t really changed anything.”
Getting more comfortable? “Yeah.”
That is one overriding component of the overall with Fuller. Coaches are now starting to see what they thought they had in Fuller, who also has appeared to work harder at his craft.
“You have to focus every week in this league, especially at that position, where you’re out on an island so much,” said Fox. “You’re dealing with some pretty incredible athletes at the wide-receiver position. Just technique-wise, he’s honed in better, working a little bit harder at perfecting those skills in practice and I think it’s carried over into the game.”