It was the easy smile of a veteran blocker accustomed to mauling opponents with well-practiced, powerful techniques of leverage and torque.
As much as the Texans’ offensive line chemistry experiment hinges on the health of oft-injured prize center Nick Martin, it will also come back to the leadership and skill of the heavy men who flank each side of him.
Texans general manager Brian Gaine identified and recruited Fulton as the centerpiece of an overhaul project intended to upgrade a line that allowed 54 sacks last season, the second-highest total in the NFL. Once the Texans traded Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown, they surrendered 28 more sacks to tie them for the most in the NFL during that time with the Buffalo Bills and the Arizona Cardinals.
When the Texans signed Fulton to a four-year, $28 million contract that included $13 million guaranteed, the Homewood, Ill., native and former Kansas City Chiefs starter became an extremely important figure in the offense.
With former starting guard Jeff Allen and Fulton’s former Kansas City teammate on the reserve-physically unable to perform list after struggling with concussions and other injuries last season and his outlook uncertain, Fulton is now the highest-paid active offensive lineman on the roster.
He’s the most experienced active starter with 46 starts in 63 career games and the capability and experience to line up at either center, as he did at an organized team activity when Martin was sidelined while he continues to recover from his second ankle surgery of his career, or guard.
With Xavier Su’a-Filo now on the Tennessee Titans, Allen out indefinitely and Martin frequently hurt, the Texans are leaning on Fulton to provide more than just a 6-5, 316-pound big body to throw at the problem.
They need the 26-year-old to give the line toughness and savvy and to show the younger linemen how to act and operate when they’re at the line of scrimmage, in the weight room or studying film.
It’s a role that Fulton embraces. He’s determined to give the Texans a lot back for their investment in him as a free agent this March.
“I mean, honestly, that’s kind of secondary,” Fulton said when asked about his hard-nosed style of play. “I bring veteran leadership. We’re a young group. You tend to be antsy and worry about stuff sometimes. I’m bringing kind of a laid-back attitude. I’m still fierce in everything I do. I bring a little bit of personality. I’m well-seasoned.”
That kind of makes Fulton the entrée of a reconstructed line that figuratively got their lunch consumed and spit back in their faces last season when they were dominated by the Jacksonville Jaguars and other formidable defenses.
Fulton brings a lot to the table. The former University of Tennessee lineman started 12 of 15 games last season for Kansas City, lining up at guard primarily and pitching in at center when injuries forced him to shift over.
“Absolutely, he’s a good pro,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s a big guy, tough, strong, smart, good communicator. Really glad we have him.”
Big, strong and mobile, Fulton joins a line that could have as many as four new starters.