BEREA: The writing has been on the wall for a couple of weeks, but it’s still not easy for the Browns to accept.
Strongside linebacker Scott Fujita is out for the season with a neck injury, and his retirement might be on the horizon. The Browns will place Fujita on injured reserve, coach Pat Shurmur announced Wednesday.
Fujita, a respected team leader, is now trying to decide whether he’ll ever play again.
“My prayers are with him,” middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “We’re close. I want to be around him as much as I can. It’s a big loss. Anytime you get to that point of your career, ideally everyone in this locker room, we’re all taking notes, we want to retire and not because of injury. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Fujita has spent most of this year fighting for his reputation after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell implicated him in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal, suspended him three games and later reduced the ban to one game. The league accused Fujita of contributing to a pool that allegedly paid his former Saints teammates for intentionally injuring opponents. He denied it from the start, and Goodell eventually conceded he has not been able to prove Fujita participated in a pay-to-injure program.
“With everything he had stemming from the bounty scandal and all the ordeals he’s had to be involved with, he’s a strong-willed guy and you would never know he had so much going on,” Jackson said. “He was the same guy, but you know at some point it had to affect him and his household. And for this [injury] to happen, it’s another setback.”
Shurmur said he spoke to Fujita on Wednesday morning and doesn’t know if Fujita will come back. Fujita, a member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee, signed with the Browns in 2010 after playing for the Saints from 2006-09, the Dallas Cowboys in 2005 and the Kansas City Chiefs from 2002-04.
“I think retirement decisions, those are personal, whether it’s coaches, players,” Shurmur said. “I think those are discussions you have with your loved ones, about is it time? For a player at times, that decision is made for you. If you’re no longer on a roster and you don’t get picked up, eventually it kind of sets in. I think we all want to be in control of our own situations. I think that’s fair to say. I think it’s fair to say that most of us aren’t. I think that’s the reality of it.”
Fujita, who was not available to the media Wednesday, had surgery on his neck in college. Now in his 11th NFL season, Fujita is dealing with more neck issues.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” weakside linebacker Kaluka Maiava said. “I was real honored to have him on the team, be in the same room as him and learn from him. He just meshes the team well. He’s friends with everyone. He has no enemies here. Everyone looks up to him, respects him and it’s unfortunate for him to go down like this, but it’s a part of football. I’m just hoping for the best for him in the future.”
Fujita hasn’t played since Oct. 7, when the Browns lost to the New York Giants 41-27 on the road. In four games this season, he had 14 tackles and a sack.
Rookie James-Michael Johnson has replaced Fujita as the team’s starting strongside linebacker in each of the past two games, and he’ll continue to do so on a long-term basis.
“It’s a big loss,” Johnson said. “Scott’s a great guy. He’s one of the best veterans I’ve been around. I’ve got so much good things to say about him from when I first came in to now. He’s been nothing but a help to me.”
Big man returns
Defensive tackle Phil Taylor practiced Wednesday for the first time this season, but he won’t play Sunday when the Browns (1-6) host the San Diego Chargers (3-3).
“Taking it day by day right now,” said Taylor, the 21st overall pick in last year’s draft. “Maybe in the next two weeks or so [I’ll be able to play]. It has been tough just going out there and not being able to play and watching. It’s tough. I’m glad I’m out there now getting into the swing of things and getting ready to play in a couple of weeks.”
The 6-foot-3, 335-pound Taylor has spent all season on the physically unable to perform list while rehabilitating from a torn left pectoral muscle he suffered lifting weights in May. The Browns have until Nov. 13 to activate Taylor or declare him out for the season.
“It’s not unique for a guy to come back at this point in the season,” Shurmur said. “We’ve just got to watch him work. We’ve got to get him out there, let him practice, get him first into the swing of things and then step up the workload. It’s reasonable to think [he could play] maybe next week or the week after. Of course, we’ve got a bye [Nov. 11], so we’ll see.”
Before he plays in his first game this season, Taylor must learn to trust his surgically repaired muscle.
“I was kind of worried about it [during practice],” Taylor said. “But I did something on one play, and I noticed I was using that arm and it felt like nothing happened.”
Taylor conceded he also must get into football shape. He’s been lifting and running, but nothing compares to playing.
“You can run all you want, but you are not going to be in football shape until you put the pads on, do the necessary things you’ve got to do to make a play,” he said.
Once Taylor returns, he should be able to help the run defense, which is ranked 24th in the NFL (133.7 rushing yards allowed per game). Taylor had 59 tackles and four sacks last season as a rookie.
“It’s tough sitting there and watching when you know you want to be out there making a difference,” Taylor said. “It is what it is. I’m going to get back out there and do what I can do to help the team and get the job done.”
After being released from the Cleveland Clinic on Wednesday, left guard Jason Pinkston visited the Browns’ headquarters and watched practice.
“It was great to see the team,” Pinkston wrote on Twitter. “Kinda nervous at first but it was a blessing.”
Pinkston had been in the hospital since Thursday, when doctors discovered he had a blood clot in his lung. He is taking blood thinners and is out for the season.
“That’s definitely life-threatening,” right guard Shawn Lauvao said. “Jason’s a strong guy, so we wish him nothing but the best. Fortunately, they were able to catch it sooner than later.”
John Greco, who has replaced Pinkston in the starting lineup, was relieved to see his friend out of the hospital. Greco and Lauvao are among the players who visited Pinkston while he was in the Clinic.
“It was definitely nice seeing him,” Greco said. “It probably provided some energy for some of the guys out there, especially our group.
“That just kind of shows you his character and strength of mind. He’s just out, smiling face. … We were happy to see him, and I’m sure he was happy to be back out here.”
The Browns had 21 players, or 40 percent of the 53-man roster, appear on their injury report Wednesday.
In addition to Fujita, cornerback Dimitri Patterson (ankle) and defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (calf) did not practice.
Running backs Trent Richardson (rib/chest) and Montario Hardesty (knee), wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring), offensive lineman Ryan Miller (illness), safeties Ray Ventrone (hand/calf), T.J. Ward (hand), Usama Young (hamstring) and Tashaun Gipson (knee) were limited.
Greco (ankle), cornerbacks Johnson Bademosi (hip) and Buster Skrine (hand), wide receiver Travis Benjamin (hamstring), linebacker Tank Carder (foot), defensive tackle John Hughes (knee), running back Chris Ogbonnaya (chest/ribs), defensive ends Juqua Parker (shoulder) and Frostee Rucker (shoulder) and long snapper Christian Yount (shoulder) fully participated.
The Chargers, meanwhile, listed two players on their injury report. Offensive tackle Jared Gaither (groin) and cornerback Shareece Wright (foot) fully participated.
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden will serve as the Browns’ fourth captain Sunday. … Two former Browns players, guard Dan Fike (1985-92) and quarterback Mike Pagel (1986-90), will serve as honorary captains Sunday.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.