BEREA, Ohio -- Scott Fujita isn't convinced he'll have to miss a single game this season.
Suspended three games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his alleged role in the New Orleans' bounty scandal, Fujita expressed confidence that he'll play in Cleveland's season opener on Sept. 9 against Philadelphia.
"I'm optimistic about playing in Week 1," he said.
Fujita was one of four players punished by Goodell for contributing to the pay-for-hits program that rocked the league. The 33-year-old returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since hurting his left knee in the Aug. 10 exhibition opener against Detroit. Following the workout on a bright, nearly cloudless day, Fujita said he "has a lot" of optimism about his suspension being reduced or delayed.
Fujita declined to give many details for his positive outlook other than saying he was encouraged by U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan's recent statements regarding suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma's request for a temporary restraining order to block the bounty sanctions. The judge has said that if she can clear up concerns about her jurisdiction, she would likely grant Vilma the order because she found the NFL's disciplinary process in the bounty matter unfair and the punishment excessive.
The four suspended players are hoping to get the order to put the suspensions on hold. They feel they should be allowed to argue in court that Goodell overstepped his jurisdiction in handing down punishment against the Saints without showing any evidence.
|Fujita believes he'll be able to start the season on the field and not suspended. (AP)|
The players and their attorneys believe the suspensions could cause them irreparable harm, possible grounds for a judge to grant a restraining order putting the suspensions on hold until it's decided if the commissioner acted properly.
An appeal hearing is scheduled for Thursday in New York. That hearing is occurring under a process laid out by the collective bargaining agreement. Berrigan has indicated that she would feel more comfortable about her jurisdiction after the appeal process under the league's labor agreement had been exhausted.
Berrigan also has urged all sides to try to settle, though there have been no apparent signs of progress on that front.
Cornerback Joe Haden could be facing a four-game suspension for reportedly failing a drug test. The Browns have declined to comment on reports Haden will be suspended for using Adderall.
While his situation gets sorted out, Fujita is just happy to be back on the field. One of the club's defensive captains, he's had his two seasons in Cleveland ended prematurely by injuries. In 2010, he tore a ligament in his left knee and missed the final seven games. Last year, he broke his hand and was placed on injured reserve with six games left.
Although he's not yet participating in team drills, Fujita has been running sprints on the side and been active in practices. When Cleveland's defense is on the field, Fujita stands a few yards behind the safeties and mimics calling out formations and making plays.
Fujita's thoughts have also been with his former teammates in New Orleans, where residents were bracing for Tropical Storm Isaac, traveling on a similar path of destruction that Hurricane Katrina took seven years ago this week.
"It's unbelievable," said Fujita, who spent four seasons with the Saints. "I talked to a lot of the guys down there yesterday. They're dealing with a lot right now."
- Browns coach Pat Shurmur said rookie QB Brandon Weeden will not play in Thursday's preseason finale against Chicago. With Weeden out, Colt McCoy will start, and both Seneca Wallace and Thad Lewis will get time behind center. McCoy and Wallace are battling to be Weeden's backup.
- Weeden didn't throw a TD pass in any of his three starts and finished 24 of 49 for 297 yards and one interception.
- Shurmur said his other starters "will play very little, if at all."
- TE Jordan Cameron was kept out of practice with an unspecified injury.