BEREA — Linebacker Scott Fujita heard the whistles coming from his coaches this week, but they weren’t meant for him.
Fujita began serving a three-game suspension Saturday and was banished from Browns headquarters. He was forbidden from practicing or talking to the coaches.
But Fujita maintained his belief he’d be reinstated in time for the opener Sunday against the Eagles and spent the week working out at Baldwin Wallace University, just seconds from the Browns’ facility.
Fujita didn’t get the call in time to hop the fence and join practice, but his optimism was rewarded Friday afternoon when a three-judge review panel overturned commissioner Roger Goodell’s suspension of Fujita and three of his former teammates for their alleged role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal.
Fujita is eligible to play against the Eagles. Undrafted rookie L.J. Fort practiced all week as the starter on the strong side, but Fujita has 10 years of experience and 122 starts. He knows the defense, even if he needed a crash course in the game plan.
“I don’t see any reason why he can’t play,” coach Pat Shurmur said.
“He’s been doing it a long time,” middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “So it’s like riding a bike.”
Fujita isn’t out of the woods completely. The panel sent the case back to Goodell and told him to be more specific in his judgment.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune obtained an internal league memo sent to the teams.
“Nothing in today’s decision contradicts any of the facts found in the investigation into this matter, or absolves any player of responsibility for conduct detrimental, nor does the decision in any way suggest what discipline would be appropriate for conduct that lies within the authority of the Commissioner,” it read. “Per the panel’s direction, the Commissioner will promptly reconsider the matter and make a determination of the appropriate discipline consistent with the standards set forth in today’s decision. All clubs will be advised when that decision is made.”
Fujita has maintained throughout the process he never paid a teammate to injure another player. He spoke to ESPN’s David Fleming last week.
“The only reasonable thing for Roger to do now is admit mistakes were made,” Fujita told him.
Fujita took to Twitter to thank his fans.
“I’m overwhelmed with all the support,” he tweeted. “Thank you so much everyone. Can’t tell you how much it means to me.”
Fujita, 33, missed most of the preseason with a knee injury so his physical condition isn’t known. But he had returned to practice before the suspension and was preparing to start the opener. He had remained optimistic the suspension would be overturned.
“Weirdest thing about training at Baldwin Wallace this week is hearing the whistles/horns at my team’s practice, literally a qtr-mile away,” he tweeted.
The Browns were given a roster exemption and will carry Fujita as a 54th player indefinitely. He played 10 games last year, missing one with a concussion and the last five with a broken hand. He had 51 tackles and an interception.
Reporters talked to Jackson before the ruling. He was hopeful he’d have Fujita back by his side Sunday.
“It’ll be a lot of excitement in this locker room,” Jackson said. “It’s a guy that we all well respect in the locker room. We hate to see him go through this ordeal. He just had a new baby in the family and he’s gotta deal with this cloud that’s over his name right now.
“If you know Scott, you know Scott’s a great guy and you hate for any guy to go through what he’s going through right now.”
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