Thursday, August 24, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Jason Fisk is used to flying under the radar. As he enters his 12th season in the NFL, Fisk has spent his entire career at one of the most thankless positions in the NFL.

Although he doesn’t get much recognition for his work at the nose tackle position, Fisk has grown accustomed to the rigors of the job.

“Jason’s one of those guys that does things that will never show up in the box score,” coach Scott Linehan said. “He plays nose guard, he knows how to play it, he has a role, he eats up blockers, he gets linebackers free, and protects his gap. He does all those things. It’s thankless, but it’s also very important.”

At the least, Fisk has been a starter for most of his NFL career. He has spent time with Minnesota, Tennessee, San Diego and Cleveland before landing in St. Louis during the offseason.

In 166 games, Fisk has 500 tackles with 19 sacks, four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. Those numbers help make Fisk a nice insurance policy for Jimmy Kennedy, who is a first-time starter at the position.

“He gives you a real solid guy that can play if you have an issue or problem with Jimmy (Kennedy),” Linehan said. “He’s played very solid, very good there. He’s never going to be one of those guys that has 1000 production points on those defensive production boards, but he’s always going to be doing his job.”

Fisk spent last season in Cleveland, where he found a whole new meaning to the thankless part of his job. Under new coach Romeo Crennel, the Browns installed a true 3-4 defense, where the nose tackle doesn’t get much of an opportunity other than to take a beating for his teammates.

“It was a bad fit,” Fisk said. “In Cleveland, they play a true 3-4 where the nose tackle just stands right in front of the center and tries to hold up space. I managed to learn how to do that, but you want a bigger guy in there, 330-340 (pound) guy that can eat up space. I’m not that guy.”

When Fisk hit the free agent market during the offseason, he made it a point to take his time and try to find the best fit for him. At 6’3, 300 pounds, Fisk isn’t the prototypical nose tackle, but he fits the bill better in defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s defense than the other schemes he has played in recently.

“In this defense we are players, too, and try to get after the ball carrier,” Fisk said. “It’s not like the 3-4, which I have been in the last couple of years and where you are a glorified offensive lineman for the linebackers. We are still trying to get in there and get after the ball and make some plays, too.”

Fisk spent his best seasons in the NFL with the Titans, where he was best utilized as a nose tackle in a 4-3 defense similar to the one Haslett has installed in St. Louis.

In his three seasons with Tennessee, Fisk started 47 games, making 224 tackles with 8.5 sacks. It’s probably not realistic to expect that kind of performance from Fisk now since he will be a part of the rotation rather than the key cog on the line, but he does like the role he has.

“I enjoy it,” Fisk said. “You take a lot of pride when you are down in there because sometimes you are down in there stacking up the double team and letting linebackers flow off you to make a play. As long as you shut down the run, which is the primary focus of the nose tackle position. I think we have a good group to be able to do that and to be part of that is fun.”

Fisk’s main role is to be a part of the defensive tackle rotation and serve as a mentor to Kennedy and the other young linemen on the team. Fisk will be the backup to Kennedy with La’Roi Glover and Claude Wroten handling the three technique spot next to them. At end, the Rams are expected to go with Leonard Little and Anthony Hargrove as starters with Victor Adeyanju as a backup.

St. Louis will likely keep eight defensive linemen and it seems there are seven spots essentially locked up. Brandon Green, Brian Howard and Jeremy Calahan potentially in the mix as well.

Regardless of who is behind him, Fisk is taking his new role in stride and doing his best to tutor the younger linemen.

“There are a lot of guys that come in here with a lot of talent that can never get on the field because they can’t get their minds around what they are doing,” Fisk said. “There is a lot of jockeying and thinking and anticipation that goes on anywhere on the field but in this position it is immediate. You are engaged with the offensive line in a half second or less after the ball is snapped. You have to be right or wrong in that brief window of time. You have to have some ability to anticipate.”