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Scott Fujita on the Browns returning to the 3-4: It can work

Jan 31, 2013 -- 6:00am

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By Tony Grossi

NEW ORLEANS

The Morning Kickoff …

Don’t despair of the 3-4: Former Browns linebacker Scott Fujita played in the “old school” 3-4 defense under Bill Parcells and Eric Mangini and in the 4-3 defense under Dick Jauron. One system he hasn’t played in is the 3-4 “attack defense” planned for the Browns under new coordinator Ray Horton.

But he knows of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ style and thinks it can work with the Browns’ flexible defensive players he left behind.

“Something like that can potentially work,” Fujita said. “You still need that dynamic pass rusher. Don’t know who that’s going to be yet. I’d love to see (Chris) Gocong be that guy. He and I have had that conversation in the past. He always felt like he could be a really, really efficient outside linebacker in the 3-4 system. That’s what he did in college. He led the whole country in that division in sacks. He’s got some natural pass rush abilities.”

Gocong led the nation in sacks two years in a row at California Polytechnic State University of the Big Sky Conference in 2004 and ’05, but hasn’t been a big sacker in the NFL.  He missed all of the 2012 season with the Browns because of a blown Achilles tendon on the second day of training camp.

Fujita considers Gocong and Jabaal Sheard key players in the style of defense Horton espoused at his introductory press conference in Cleveland on Tuesday.

“If you have a solid Sam (strongside linebacker) like a Gocong, who can set the edge (against the run), drop back (in pass coverage), and rush a little bit, and a stand-up, open side end/outside linebacker like Sheard, while keeping your interior defensive linemen on half a man rather than head up, then you can have some flexibility,” Fujita said.

 “From that front, it's easy to slide the Sam back into a stack position, move the interior tackles over a gap, and put the open end's hand back in the dirt, and you've got a traditional 4-3 ‘over’ front.”

Horton spoke of having “multiple fronts” in his defense. He would do that by sliding his linemen to the side of the blockers in front of them as opposed to having them line up directly over them. Such intricacies distinguish the traditional “two-gap” 3-4 the Browns played under Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini from Horton’s.

“They all have the athleticism to be flexible and move around,” Fujita said of the Browns’ linemen. “I’d like to see guys lined up on half a man, so they can penetrate, so they can slash. The idea of just being head up on a guy, play after play cracking skulls, there’s a certain player that can go for that – Kenyon Coleman, Robaire Smith, for example. That’s that model of 3-4. The Pittsburgh system has more slashers and cutters. I’m hopeful that’s the plan because it utilizes the athleticism of all the young guys and it protects D’Qwell (Jackson) more.”

Supporting his friend: Fujita was in New Orleans, where he played for the Super Bowl-winning Saints prior to signing with the Browns in 2009, to support and promote the spring opening of Team Gleason House for Innovative Living.

The residential facility – the second of its kind in the United States -- provides care for people living with incurable neuromuscular disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or Lou Gherig’s Disease).

The facility was the brainchild of former Saints teammate Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed in 2010 and has since been a tireless advocate of making life better for ALS victims through the development of technologies. Gleason, 35, spoke at the press conference with the aid of synthetic voice and eye tracking technology.

Fujita has been at the side of Gleason through much of his ordeal since being diagnosed. Now that Fujita is in semi-retirement from playing, currently trying to avoid neck fusion surgery which probably ended his career, he has more time to devote to Gleason’s mission to inspire people living with ALS and related disorders.

“This has been a huge passion project, something I believe in,” said Fujita, who lost an uncle to ALS.  

 Back to the 3-4: Fujita always championed the 4-3 as the best defensive system to utilize Jackson’s skills because it freed Jackson from entangling with 320-pound guards.

“He’s a guy you want to keep protected,” Fujita said. “Even if he’s exposed to a guard, he’s gooing to get 150 tackles a year because he’s that kind of athlete. But, you’ve got your best guy on the field, why not protect him and not let those blockers have a free shot at him every single play?”

While Fujita believes Horton’s system can work with the young players already on board, he was sorry to see the team part ways with former coordinator Dick Jauron.

“It’s too bad,” Fujita said. “I think we all expected change would be coming across the board. But Dick has done such a good job over there in two years.

“He’s been really the one calm, steady force in that building through everything we had – the lockout, lots of injuries, so many young guys playing. And he actually got a lot out of the guys, too.

“So if he wants another shot as a D-coordinator, I hope he gets it. And I’d love to be able to champion for him because he’s one of the best I’ve been around. And a damn good man, too.”

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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