When you’re a Cleveland Browns fan it is not often that you get good news about your team, but that is just what happened earlier today. On Friday afternoon word broke that an appeals panel had overturned the suspensions of Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita, and Anthony Hargrove, declaring that Roger Goodell may not have had the power to punish them for their role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. The decision, which came as a shock to many people around the NFL, is the first time that I can remember when someone told commissioner Goodell that he can’t do whatever he pleases.
So now that the panel’s decision has been handed down all players involved – sans Anthony Hargrove since he’s a free-agent – are able to play in their respective games this weekend. Vilma, Smith, and Hargrove are still with the Saints and will take on the Washington Redskins this Sunday, while Fujita, now with the Browns, will take on the Philadelphia Eagles.
While Browns head coach Pat Shurmur does have a “no practice, no play” policy in place, this type of situation has never occurred in the history of the NFL, so he may be a little more lenient in enforcing that policy on the once thought suspended linebacker. Fujita is quite capable of being inserted into the Browns lineup Sunday, after all he did only miss one week of practice and keeps himself in great shape. Additionally the aptitude that Fujita has for the game should calm any concerns that Shurmur has about Fujita’s lack of practice time. The best course of action would be to run Fujita through a multitude of the defensive plays on a morning throughout Sunday.
But the one question that will come into play for Browns fans is how effective will Fujita be if he does indeed wind up in the starting lineup Sunday? Even being one week behind on practice, Fujita is certainly an upgrade over the second option for the Browns, undrafted rookie free-agent, L.J Fort. The Eagles is offense is one of the most explosive in the NFL, and while Fujita is now 33 years old, and not exactly light on his feet, the presence he provides on the outside will be key.
The second biggest thing that Fujita will bring to the Browns defense on Sunday is stability. Like I mentioned before, Fujita is now 33 years old, and while he certainly has lost a step, speed has never been one of the things that Fujita relies upon. He has always depended on his football smarts, intellect, and superb effort; traits that have made him a very gifted outside linebacker. Fujita is not necessarily the type of player who will run down Michael Vick in the open field, but then how many linebackers are capable of that?
Two things you can count on Sunday are:
1. If Vick escapes the pocket, which I’m sure will happen more than once, Fujita will give 110% in trying to chase him down.
2. Fujita will do exactly what he’s supposed to do and will not make any huge mistakes that could cost the Browns the game. Additionally Fujita will make sure that the Browns younger linebackers are correctly positioned on defense, and know where they are supposed to go.
The possible addition of Scott Fujita into the starting lineup now gives the Browns a much better chance to upset the Eagles than they had just a few short hours ago.
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