THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Jordan Fuller found out he would be starting in the Rams' season-opener the week prior to it, but he seemingly already earned the role in early August and before the team had put pads on.
According to Los Angeles defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, the rookie safety proved during the team's acclimation period that he was mentally prepared to play early in the NFL. Once the coaching staff saw how he held up physically against L.A.'s offense in training camp, they knew they could trust him.
Fuller reciprocated by leading the Rams in total tackles with eight in a 20-17 victory over the Cowboys, proving to be someone they can count on moving forward in the process.
"I'm very blessed for the opportunity, for my coaches believing in me and my teammates believing in me," Fuller said in a video conference with reporters Monday morning. "Obviously you come in just wanting to compete every single day, and that's just how I approached everything. Didn't set any expectations for myself, I just wanted to attack every single day and live with the results that way."
Just how much did Staley and the rest of L.A.'s coaching staff trust Fuller? The Ohio State product was on the field for 71 of the team's 72 defensive snaps Sunday night.
However, the biggest of them all was in the redzone late in the fourth quarter.
Clinging to a 3-point lead, the Rams' defense watched Cowboys' offense reach the L.A. 11-yard line with 11:46 left in the fourth quarter and elect to go for it on 4th and 3 in lieu of a game-tying field goal attempt. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott dropped back to pass and fired the ball short right to rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who was halted by Fuller one yard short of the line to gain.
Fuller said he knew in that down and instance, teams usually try to use pick plays against defensive players and create traffic, something he recognized prior to the ball being snapped. His ability to successfully navigate that traffic allowed him to make the timely play.
"He's a young that stepped up for us and made a big play for us to help us win this game," defensive lineman Aaron Donald said postgame. "He's out there on that field playing for a reason, you know, to make plays like that and help us."
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey didn't seem surprised by it either, especially after watching Fuller create multiple takeaways in training camp last month.
"Jordan has been balling all camp," Ramsey said postgame. "We are happy to have him in our secondary and he's been playing extremely well, so we expected him to do that again tonight. Very proud of him, glad to have him a part of this team."
On the other side of the ball, wide receiver Cooper Kupp said the performance reflected how quickly Fuller has adjusted to the NFL.
"For him to come in without any OTAs, without any kind of opportunity to kind of build that stuff up early on, only having training camp to be able to develop and get a grasp of the defense, he's done an incredible job of being able to adapt from college to pro and the speed and the concepts that we run at the pro level," Kupp said during a video conference Monday morning.
At the same time, it's just one game. Both Fuller and Staley recognize there are areas of Fuller's game he can work on.
An example: While Staley on Wednesday morning praised Fuller for how well he handled the tremendous amount of responsibility placed on a safety in this defense and the way he "played at times like he's capable of playing," Fuller still "missed too many tackles for the caliber player that we think he is."
Still, if Fuller's physical and mental makeup shown in training camp are as telling as they seem to be, Staley is betting on him to make the necessary adjustments to become the player the Rams know he can be – and can continue to count on – in the future.
"I know that it was his first NFL game, but we're very confident that he can play better and that he will play better," Staley said. "But at the same time, as I said to (head coach) Sean (McVay) and (general manager) Les (Snead) and (chief operating officer) Kevin (Demoff), I'm sure glad we drafted him."