A couple of Sundays ago, as I recovered from the 2nd Annual Bernie's Insiders Draft Day Bash, I was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with new Browns defensive tackle Jason Fisk. Fisk was signed away from San Diego to man the nose guard position in Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defense, and was nice enough to speak with us for over an hour as he drove back into Cleveland to prepare for workouts at Berea this week. The conversation was enlightening, and will be featured in the next issue of Bernie's Insiders The Magazine, which will hit the stands and your mailboxes in a couple of weeks.
Below are some excerpts from my conversation with Jason, and be sure to catch the entire interview in the next issue of the magazine.
Swerb: "Jason, thanks for taking the time out for us."
Fisk: "No problem, I'm happy to do it. Just driving back to Cleveland from Chicago for workouts this week."
Swerb: "Welcome to Cleveland. You have to be excited, getting another chance to start at age 32, and coming in here to man the middle of our new 3-4 defense."
Fisk: "Oh it is, yes. It's a great opportunity to get back into a starting role, and come in with a team that is in the process of turning things around. I'm looking forward to getting back on top."
Swerb: "What other teams showed interest in you in free agency, and what were the main factors in your decision to come here?"
Fisk: "I visited here, and also in New Orleans and San Francisco. All three teams had pretty significant interest. The opportunity to go into a starting role here was very significant, and I just had a really good feeling about the whole environment here in Cleveland."
Swerb: "How did your initial conversation with Phil Savage go?"
Fisk: "He talked about his philosophy of trying to bring in character guys, good quality people into the organization, and that I would fit that role pretty well. He talked about our situation in San Diego last season, having success in a 3-4 with quality people, and our turnaround there. Phil Savage really knows what he's doing. It is impossible to come away anything but impressed whenever you talk to that man. He has a very clear concept of how he wants this team to look and he's going to get it there."
Swerb: "Have you been out to Berea yet? Or are you just now starting workouts?"
Fisk: "I've been out there. I'm still in transition, going back and forth between there and San Diego ... trying to get the family situated. I've made just about every one, missed just a couple. I've been out there since late March, getting the base laid, the foundation laid for the season to come."
Swerb: "Have there been a lot of guys there early for these voluntary workouts?"
Fisk: "There has. It's been really impressive. Rarely do you see this type of participation, especially in areas with cold winter weather. Usually guys go home, then don't come back until the first mini-camps. It's been a great start, a chance to build camaraderie when you have a lot of guys participating, and you need that to help carry you through a long season. It's been great to see so many guys at these workouts."
Swerb: "Amazingly, you have only missed two games in ten years of playing in this league, which defies logic for a guy in the trenches on every play. What's the secret?"
Fisk: "I think genetics definitely factors in there. I've been lucky to feel well, and I stay limbered up so I don't break. The key is putting your work in during the off-season and preparing your body for the regular season. There are a lot of guys that put a lot more effort into that than others, and I've always been very diligent in doing whatever it takes to put myself in the best physical shape possible. I'm sure that has something to do with it too. And a little bit of luck too."
Swerb: "San Diego last year decided to switch to a 3-4 defense based on the personnel. How were you guys able to experience so much success so soon in a new defensive approach?"
Fisk: "Wade Phillips started putting in the 3-4 in mini camps, and they wanted to keep it flexible as far as maybe being a multiple front defense. The personnel worked out great for us, and had some linebackers come in and do a great job. It was very effective for us, and we didn't do too much stuff that was very elaborate. We played well, and we played well together, and it made for a pretty good defense."
Swerb: "Generally speaking, in your view, what are the biggest keys to excelling as a 3-4 defense?"
Fisk: "Controlling the run game and discipline. You've got three guys up front trying to hold the point and make a wall for the offense to run in to. And if you have breakdowns, or players trying to do their own thing, or free lance ... it puts pressure on the rest of the team to compensate. It's really a discipline based defense, and that's what makes it go. If not, it breaks down pretty quick."
Swerb: "An argument often used by 3-4 enthusiasts is that it is a conceptually better defense because it is easier for a 3-4 team to still play 4-3 sets in certain spots than it is for a 4-3 team to slip into 3-4 sets. Is that a valid argument?"
Fisk: "Yes. Most ends in the league are not used to dropping into zone coverage, pr picking up a tight end man to man. Sometimes 4-3 teams will try it, but you're right, it's not as effective as 3-4 teams giving 4-3 looks. It's definitely a more versatile defense in that regard, and the popularity of the short throwing game right now is at an all-time high ... it seems like that's all teams use. The 3-4 is better at ruining the timing of the short passing game, it's easier to disguise things, and I really believe it's a more effective defense for today's game."
Swerb: "A lot of fans have looked to the 2004 Chargers as the model for what we want to do in 2004. Everyone had predicted that team would finish in the basement, they were coming off a rough season, they switched to a 3-4 defense, and had a lot of problems on the offensive line the year prior. There are really a lot of parallels."
Fisk: "There really are. It shows how quick things can be turned around in this league, and even in my brief time with the team, I see a lot of similarities between the two teams."
Swerb: "Did you have a chance to watch any of the draft this weekend?"
Fisk: "A little bit. I can only handle so much of those analysts. It seems like they're never right."
Swerb: "Just looking at my television real quick, the Browns have just taken Andrew Hoffman, a 3-4 nose tackle from Virginia in round six with the pick acquired from Tampa for Luke McCown. Are you surprised that the team did not address the depth of the defensive line until now?"
Fisk: "Not too much. We have some guys that are looking great early, and could be great contributors as reserve. I look forward to working with the new kid as well."
Swerb: "Jason, thanks again for doing this with us. Best of luck with everything this season, and I'll check back in this summer before camp."
Fisk: "Sounds good. I'm really looking forward to this season, and getting this thing pointed in the right direction."