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September 3, 2008

Fuller working himself into prominent role with Titans

By: Jimmy Robertson

Vincent FullerVincent Fuller

There are many things that signify the impending kickoff to a football season.

For starters, the magazines start rolling out their season previews. The various conferences start announcing their media kickoff functions. More and more players start working out.

And in Blacksburg, Vincent Fuller’s appearance signifies that it’s time to get serious about football.

NFL players usually get most of the month of July off before reporting for preseason camp, but Fuller’s vacations consists of coming to Blacksburg. The former Tech defensive back, who now plays for the Tennessee Titans, works out for three weeks with Tech’s strength and conditioning staff and with the Hokie players during player-organized passing drills.

“They [Tennessee officials] give you a workout to do on your own,” Fuller said. “But I thrive when I’m around people who are working hard and no one works harder than the players here. I’ve been doing this for the past few years now and I haven’t missed a beat.”

Fuller’s workout this summer consisted of meeting with Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray in the morning. Gray, a former NFL assistant coach, put Fuller through an array of drills, and once finished, Fuller went to the weight room to lift with Mike Gentry and his crew. After lunch and a nap, he returned to campus to participate in the passing drills with the players.

It appears to be paying off. A year ago, Fuller worked as the Titans’ nickel back and made several eye-popping plays. In a Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints, Fuller intercepted a Drew Brees pass and returned it 61 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. Two weeks later, he snared an errant pass by Detroit’s Joey Harrington and returned it 76 yards for a touchdown.

“I got a ton of calls and text messages,” Fuller said. “I think, after the game against New Orleans, I had like 34 text messages and my voicemail was full. You’ve got to love that support. It was really cool.”

Fuller played in every game a year ago and finished with 35 tackles, one sack and the two interceptions. All of those were career highs.

Last year marked a stark contrast to his first couple of years. As a rookie, the former fourth-round pick broke his right leg in the second game of the season while covering a kickoff against the Baltimore Ravens. He spent the season on injured reserve.

“That was a transition year, kind of like a redshirt year,” he said. “Then, the next year, I was just trying to make the roster, whether it be by playing on special teams or as a nickel back or just doing something. Last year, it was pretty much the same thing.

“This year, though, I’m trying to establish myself as a player. I want our coaching staff and our organization to know that I can help this team be successful.”

"This year, I’m trying to establish myself as a player. I want our coaching staff and our organization to know that I can help this team be successful.” – Vincent Fuller

In the NFL, Fuller knows the margin for error is small, particularly in his case because the Titans play in arguably the best division in football (the AFC South). The Titans play Jacksonville and Indianapolis – two playoff teams – twice. In Fuller’s case, he’s matching wits with Peyton Manning, arguably the best player in the NFL.

“His best trait is his accuracy,” Fuller said. “He knows defenses and he knows where everybody is. There were a couple of times where I swore I did everything right and he still made the completion.

“That’s the way it is in this league, though. You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game. If you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, then you’re going to be on SportsCenter – and not in a good way.”

Fuller’s time in Tennessee may come to an end at the conclusion of this upcoming season, his fourth in Nashville. As a restricted free agent, he signed a one-year, $927,000 deal for this season and will be eligible for free agency following the year.

He hopes to stay in the Music City, though.

“This is a good organization and Coach [Jeff] Fisher is a players’ coach,” Fuller said. “He’s got a good staff, too, and I want to play well for them.

“And Nashville’s grown on me. It’s a college city. You’ve got Vanderbilt and Lipscomb and Belmont and a bunch of others here. There are a lot of young people here and a lot of young professionals. I’ve bought a condo on the West End and I like it here. There’s a lot going on, so hopefully I can stay for a while.”


NFL (As of Aug. 31st)

Arizona Cardinals

25 Eric Green- The former Tech cornerback enters his fourth season in Arizona after being selected in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He started 11 games for the Cardinals last season and finished with 51 tackles (47 solo). He did not intercept a pass the entire season.

He finished the season on injured reserve after suffering a groin injury. He went on injured reserve in week 13 and did not play the rest of the season.

Atlanta Falcons

7 Michael Vick- The former No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft did not play last season after being suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell following his decision to plead guilty to dog-fighting and gambling charges. He will not play this season, but could return the league in 2009.

Buffalo Bills

93 Chris Ellis – The Bills took Ellis in the third round of April’s NFL Draft and signed the former Tech defensive end to a four-year deal worth $3.2 million. Ellis goes into this season as a back-up at the end spots.

Carolina Panthers

50 James Anderson – Anderson goes into his third season as a back-up at the linebacker spot. He played in a reserve role last season, finishing with 17 tackles (14 solo). His best game came in his lone start when he recorded seven tackles against Tampa Bay. He was not active the final six games of last season.

87 Jeff King – King will be the starter for the Panthers this season at tight end following a breakout campaign last year in which he started all 16 games, catching 46 passes for 406 yards and two touchdowns. A former fifth-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, he finished second on the team in receptions and third in yardage.

Cincinnati Bengals

17 Shayne Graham- Graham goes into his eighth NFL season (and sixth with the Bengals) as a starting kicker. A year ago, he made 31 of 34 field-goal attempts, with a long of 48, and all 37 of his extra points.

Cleveland Browns

27 Nick Sorensen – Sorensen, entering his eighth NFL season, signed with the Browns in late October of last year after being waived by Jacksonville, where he spent four seasons. He’ll play mostly on special teams for the Browns and also serve as a reserve at safety. He played in nine games last season, registering 13 tackles (11 solo)- all on special teams.

Chicago Bears

34 Kevin Jones – After spending four injury-plagued years with the Lions, Kevin Jones signed with the Bears in the offseason. He rushed for 581 yards on 153 carries and scored eight touchdowns a year ago, but tore the ACL in his knee and missed the latter part of the season. He signed a one-year deal worth $605,000 with the Bears.

Denver Broncos

60 John Engelberger- Engelberger, a former defensive lineman here at Tech, will be a starter on the defensive line for the Broncos. He started 15 of 16 games last season, recording 41 tackles, including 30 solo stops, and he had one sack. Entering his ninth year in the NFL (his fourth with the Broncos), he signed a two-year deal in February worth $4 million.

75 Carlton Powell – The Broncos took the former Tech defensive tackle in the fifth round of this past April’s NFL Draft, but he won’t be playing this upcoming season. Powell tore his Achilles tendon during an offseason workout and will miss the entire season. He signed a four-year deal worth almost $2 million.

19 Eddie Royal – Royal went in the second round to the Broncos in this past April’s draft and many expected him to contribute just on special teams in his first year. But Royal started as the No. 2 wideout during the preseason and may eventually win the starting job. Royal signed a four-year contract worth nearly $4 million.

Green Bay Packers

37 Aaron Rouse- The Packers took the former Tech rover in the third round of the 2007 draft, and Rouse played in 11 games, starting three. He wasn't active the first three games of the season, but he finished with 25 tackles (22 solo), and he intercepted two passes on the season. He goes into his second season as a reserve at the free safety spot.

Houston Texans

11 André Davis- Davis enjoyed a rebound season a year ago with the Texas, starting eight games in place of an injured André Johnson. He caught 33 passes for a career-high 583 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned kickoffs, having returned 32 for 968 yards, an average of 30.3 yards per return. He returned three of those kickoffs for touchdowns.

Houston rewarded Davis with a four-year, $16 million contract back in February and Davis goes into the season as the back-up behind Johnson. This will be his seventh NFL season.

75 Brandon Frye- The former Tech offensive tackle went to the Texans in the fifth round of the 2007 draft and spent the entire season on the practice squad. He goes into this season looking to secure a back-up role at tackle – probably behind former Hokie Duane Brown.

76 Duane Brown – Brown went in the first round to the Texans in this past April’s NFL Draft and could be the starter at left tackle. He signed a five-year, $11.5 million deal with Houston.

52 Xavier Adibi – The Texans also drafted former Tech linebacker Xavier Adibi back in April and he’ll go into this season as a reserve at linebacker. He signed a four-year deal with Houston.

Jacksonville Jaguars

20 Pierson Prioleau- Prioleau signed with the Jaguars in the offseason after spending three seasons with the Redskins mainly in a back-up role. He played in 15 games last season with the Redskins, starting four of them, and finished with 45 tackles (31 solo). He will be entering his 10th season in the NFL and will be a reserve safety for the Jaguars.

75 Jonathan Lewis – The former Tech defensive tackle landed with the Jaguars in mid-August and expected to add depth to their line. But Lewis suffered a knee injury in the preseason finale against Washington and was placed on injured reserve. He will miss the 2008 season.

Kansas City Chiefs

24 Brandon Flowers – Flowers left school early and it paid off when he went in the second round to Kansas City in April’s draft. He signed a four-year deal with the Chiefs and will be a starter at cornerback this season.

Miami Dolphins

19 Ernest Wilford – After spending four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2004 draft, Wilford signed a four-year, $13 million deal with the Dolphins in the offseason and will contend for a starting job there.

Tech’s all-time leading receiver enjoyed a career year for the Jaguars last season, catching a career-high- and a team-leading- 45 passes for 518 yards and three touchdowns.

New Orleans Saints

61 Matt Lehr – Lehr goes into his ninth season in the NFL looking to add depth to the Saints’ offensive line after signing a one-year deal with them in the offseason. He played in every game with Tampa Bay last season in a reserve role.

New York Jets

17 David Clowney – Clowney, entering his second season, bounced around after being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 2007 draft, but ultimately landed with the Jets, who placed him on their practice squad last fall. He was not activated for any games, but should contribute as a reserve receiver and on special teams this season.

68 Will Montgomery- The former Tech center signed with the Jets in September of last year and goes into this season as a reserve. He played in seven games for the Jets, starting the final two games of the regular season. This will be his third season in the NFL.

Oakland Raiders

64 Jake Grove- The former Tech center goes into his fifth season with Oakland after being drafted by the Raiders in the second round of the 2004 draft. He played in just seven games last season, missing the majority of the season because of a knee injury. But he appears to be healthy now and will be a back-up behind John Wade at center for Oakland this season.

23 DeAngelo Hall – After a tumultuous season in Atlanta, Hall found himself on the move when the Falcons traded him to Oakland, which signed him to a seven-year deal worth more than $65 million. The All-Pro cornerback started 15 of 16 games for the Falcons, finishing with 70 tackles (63 solo) and five interceptions on the season. Entering his fifth NFL season, he’ll be the starter in Oakland.

Seattle Seahawks

55 Darryl Tapp- The former Tech defensive end earned a spot in the starting lineup for the Seahawks and started all 16 games last season and both of the Seahawks' playoff games. He recorded 49 tackles, including 41 solo stops, and seven sacks. He also intercepted a pass. Four of the sacks for the second-round pick in the 2006 draft came in a game against St. Louis. Tapp will again be a starter for the Seahawks this upcoming season.

San Francisco 49ers

84 Josh Morgan – Morgan went in the sixth round of April’s draft to the San Francisco 49ers and may be a bargain for the team (he signed a four-year deal worth $1.8 million). He enjoyed a terrific camp and may end up being a starter at receiver by season’s end, if not sooner.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

69 Anthony Davis- The former Tech tackle will be entering his sixth season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after landing with them as a free agent coming out of college. He played in nine games last year and heads into this season as a reserve at left guard behind Arron Sears.

Tennessee Titans

22 Vincent Fuller- The former Tech defensive back is in his fourth season with the Titans after enjoying a nice year last year. He served as the Titans' nickel back and he returned two interceptions for touchdowns. He returned one 61 yards for a touchdown in the Titans' victory over the Saints, and two weeks later, he returned one 76 yards for a score against Atlanta. He finished with 30 tackles (27 solo) and had a sack this season.

Washington Redskins

23 Justin Hamilton – Hamilton did not play in the NFL last year after spending his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns. But the Redskins signed him in May and he goes into this season as a back-up at the safety spots. He figures to see most of his time on special teams, though.