Kendall Fuller could not have read the play any better.
The six-year cornerback had his eye on Carson Wentz, who was rearing his arm back to fire a shot at Cam Sims during the Washington Commanders' Monday training camp practice. The pass, which was headed to the left side of the field, was about to hit Sims in the chest, but not before Fuller broke on the ball and snatched it for himself.
The play started an avalanche of highlights from the defense that day, as the secondary secured five interceptions. It was certainly the most noticeable example of how far the group has come in a year and part of what has been an impressive start to training camp.
The defensive backs have been talking for months about how the upcoming season will feature a return to form after a disappointing 2021 campaign. Now, after months of hyping up their progress, that optimism is starting to show on the field.
"As good as we wanna be," Fuller said when asked about the secondary's potential. "That's why we're here. That's why we were all here during OTAs, just working together, trying to get better each and every day."
Fuller, the veteran of the group, has stood out the most often among the defensive backs. His interception against Sims was hardly the only highlight he's had in the past week, as he has shut down receivers like Terry McLaurin, Dyami Brown and Jahan Dotson.
Even when he does end a play with the ball in his hands, he still manages to positively affect plays in the defenses' favor. Case and point: Fuller punched the ball away from Brown's grasp on Day 2, allowing Cole Holcomb to grab the pick himself.
If it seems like Fuller and the rest of the secondary are playing with some extra motivation, it's because they want to get the bad taste of last season out of their mouths. Their 2021 performances (22nd overall, 29th in passing defense) was a flip from the second-best outing the defense had in 2020, even with the secondary being more stabilized in the second half of the season.
The whole experience was humbling for Fuller, both personally and as a member of the Commanders' defense.
"You work hard now to try to keep yourself out of a hole, but it's just the nature of the business," Fuller said. "So that's something that we just preparing ourselves for now."
The Commanders do seem equipped for an improved season. The core of the secondary remains intact, which the team believes will help strengthen communication between plays. So far, that's turned out to be true with William Jackson III said things have been "1,000% better."
"Everybody knows everybody on a first name basis," Jackson said. "We all hang together. So it's all good. Sometimes I can look at Bobby \[McCain\] and know exactly what he thinking. So that's the chemistry we needed."
That's a sentiment that is shared among the entire secondary. McCain, who finished the 2021 season leading the Commanders with four interceptions, knows a deeper level of communication comes with time and reps. It's a key component to the secondary's plans, and McCain knows what can happen without it.
"If you line up and nobody says anything, you're wrong," McCain said. "If nobody's saying anything, if nobody's giving a call, if nobody's making checks, if nobody's seeing tendencies, nobody's seeing if you're not saying what you're seeing, then you're wrong."
McCain said the younger players in the secondary, which includes draft picks Christian Holmes and Percy Butler, still have some work to do to fine tune their communication, but they have the talent to create strong depth for the group. One of the biggest impact players outside of the starting group has been Benjamin St-Juste, who has adapted well to his new role as a nickel corner.
His ability to use his length and shut down receivers has been noticed by his teammates.
"I think that's one thing that a lot of people are gonna be caught off guard against. You see a lot of guys in the slot that are smaller, quick guys and to have somebody like Juice, that they probably never really get a guy that's quick and a guy that's big , physical and stuff like that is definitely gonna be a good change up."
Butler, who Ron Rivera said should be an immediate contributor, is another player who has quietly stepped up in practice. The biggest things the head coach has noticed about the safety: "He's smart, very fast, very athletic."
"He's got a good sense about him. He understands the game. Josh is very bright and athletic. He's showing us some position flex playing some nickel, and corner for us."
There's a lot of hope in the Commanders secondary, and it's starting to turn into results. The belief is that it will carry over to the regular season, but as Fuller said, it's on the players themselves as to whether they rise to their own expectations.
"That's up to how hard we work, how hard we make each day count when we're out here. That's something that we're working towards every day."