Fusco says he's most improved mentally

Brandon Fusco has improved quickly in the three years since he was a sixth-round draft pick out of a Division II school. Now he is ranked one of the top guards in the NFL and he credits his vastly improved understanding of the game for his ascension.

Brandon Fusco says he doesn't pay attention to grades issued to him by analytical sites.

Good thing. He might have gone crazy from angst after being rated the 73rd guard in the league in 2012 – worse than all 64 starting guards – by Pro Football Focus.

Then again, he might have all the improvement going to his head after his 2013 season, when he was ranked No. 8 overall among guards.

"If I started (paying attention to) that it would drive me nuts, so I try to stay out of that stuff," he said.

But the guard who is entering his fourth season in the league believes he has improved quite a bit since being a sixth-round draft pick three years ago.

"I think I've improved mentally and physically. Just the different techniques the veterans and coaching staff have taught me, I try to implement on the field and get better each day," he said. "Come out with a positive attitude and improve as a player – just be physical, like I always am, and things pan out. I think the game has slowed down mentally enough for me, just knowing different defenses and why different blitzes are coming. John Sullivan, he's a very smart center and he explains all that stuff to me, so it slowed down the game a lot for me."

It should hardly be a surprise that Fusco may have been a bit overwhelmed by the level of diagnosis involved at the NFL level. In addition to being a sixth-round pick in 2011, that was also the year of the NFL locked out players in its labor dispute. That meant rookies were relegated to only a one-day window of contact with the team after being drafted and then had to be sent away without further coaching until the lockout ended days before training camp.

Fusco said he didn't know what keys to look for from defenses, how to diagnose blitzes, and how to see stunts coming from the defensive line.

"I think coming in here at first, everything was flying a hundred miles an hour for me," he said. "I just didn't know the different schemes and just the knowledge of the game of football – the blitzes, overs and unders, different fronts and stuff like that. Now that I know all of that stuff, everything is just slowing down for me."

It didn't help that he was trying to acclimate to the highest level of professional football coming from a Division II program like Slippery Rock.

"These guys here are bigger, faster, stronger. I faced some good competition at Division II, but it's nothing compared to here," he said. "I see the best players every day and it's helping me. I face Sharrif Floyd in practice every day and he's making me better and I make him better so it's just stuff like that."

Fusco's eight overall ranking by Pro Football Focus may be a bit of a subjective grade, but one statistic indicates just how good Fusco was run blocking last year. The Vikings were the top-ranked team in the league for rushing average over right guard with a 6.71-yard average.

That meshes with the strength of Fusco, according to PFF, which ranked him a strong run blocker (fifth among guards in 2013 and even 46th in 2012).

As far as pass protection, Fusco was credited with allowing two sacks, four quarterback hits and 17 hurries last year, an improvement over the four sacks, six hits and 22 hurries he was tasked with by the analytics site in 2012.

Fusco said he watches film of the Ravens' Marshall Yanda and the Patriots' Logan Mankins to model his game after, but he credits the help of Sullivan for assisting his progress most.

"On and off the field, I think he's probably my biggest mentor since I've been here," he said. "He explains stuff, the knowledge of the game of football that I didn't know there was when I got here. The game expanded a lot and I thank him a lot for teaching me a lot of things."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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