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Scott, Jones savor their chances

Posted Oct 24, 2011


Bernard Scott

Updated: 10-25-11, 1:15 a.m.

One of the many reasons the Bengals covet third-year running back Bernard Scott is he may be listed as 5-10, 198 pounds, but he’s got the heart of a fullback. It is going to be beating ferociously in Sunday’s game (4:15 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Local 12) in Seattle that marks his third NFL start.

“If I have to run 15, 20, 25 times, I’ll be ready,” Scott said after Monday’s practice. “Let me run it 20 or 25 times and then decide if I can do it or not. Instead of just, ‘Oh, OK. He’s 195, 200. I don’t think he can carry the load.’ ”

In the finest Little Big Man Bengals tradition of James Brooks, Scott lays it on the line Sunday in the absence of Cedric Benson, suspended for a game. The bruising Benson has been one of Cincinnati's most valuable players over the last four seasons while plowing to a 12-2 record in his 100-yard games, but the slippery scatback Scott also has a big following among his teammates and coaches even though he’s carried it more than 20 times in a game just once.

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden: “After you look at the games over the last six weeks, you end up saying (after each game) you’d like to get Bernard a few more touches. This will be a great chance for him.”

Running back Brian Leonard: “Smooth. He’s a smooth runner. He gets to holes you don’t even see and some way he pops through and gets an extra couple of yards.”

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth: “Everybody’s itching to see him play because he’s dynamic with the football. He’s one of those guys you say is a true playmaker. You don’t know what the best part of his game is, he’s just a playmaker.”

Scott has also been patient. Since he logged his lone 100-yard game on those 21 carries in Oakland as a rookie and then followed it up with 87 yards on 18 carries against Cleveland in the games of Nov. 22-29, 2009, he’s hit double-digit carries just once and that was last season when he romped for 50 yards on 11 carries in the win over San Diego.  

Scott gets the sense the Bengals don’t want to use him a lot because of his slight build. But he points to the 19 carries per game the 5-11, 195-pound Chris Johnson has put in for the Titans in his 53 NFL games. There is also the 13.5 average by the 6-1, 200-pound Jamaal Charles for the Chiefs in 2009 and 2010 while gaining more than six yards per carry before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of this season.

And there is Baltimore's Ray Rice at 5-9, 185 pounds with his 17 carries per game the past three seasons to go along with his prodigious pass catching totals.

“I’ve been the smallest guy in every situation I’ve been in; I think I’m doing all right,” said Scott, the runaway winner of Division II Heisman Trophy at Abilene Christian when he averaged a comic strip 8.1 yards per carry with three 250-yard-plus games.

Gruden says all three backs backing up Benson—Scott, Leonard and Cedric Peerman—deserve carries. He knows what Scott can do.

“He’s got great vision. He’s got a little more opportunity for big plays but he’s obviously not as physical as Cedric (Benson),” Gruden said. “He can do certain things better than Cedric and there are certain things he can’t do as good as Cedric. We’ll see.”

The busiest stretch of Scott's career back in ’09 did end with a turf toe that took him out of the last three games of the season and cut short his carries for the season at 74. He had 13 fewer last season and with 30 this season he’s on pace for 80. But since he’s not returning kicks this year, that figured to open up his work from scrimmage, but it hasn’t yet.

Everybody wants to get Scott more carries, but it is a big back league. Johnson has 98 carries, yet the guys in the AFC that are ahead of him are all at least 10 pounds heavier, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, with an NFL-best 148 carries, offers some hope at 5-7, but he’s 208 pounds.

The 225-pound Benson is second with 117. Oakland’s Darren McFadden (6-2, 210) and the Jets’ Shonn Greene (5-11, 226), are tied with 113 carries. The 6-1, 215-pound Fred Jackson of Buffalo has 106 with Denver’s Willis McGahee, 6-0, 228 pounds, checking in with 103 and Arian Foster of Houston, 6-1, 233, with 102.

But Scott’s fullback heart won’t be deterred. He may be looking at other numbers besides height and weight. In his four career games he’s carried in double digits, he’s averaged 4.6 yards.

“There’s no change this week,” Scott said. “I prepare myself each week like I’m going to get the most carries. I’m always excited any time I get a chance to show the coaches when my number's called I’m ready to step up to the challenge.”

Leonard figures his role isn’t going to change Sunday. He’ll be the third-down back and he’ll be in there for the two-minute drill at the end of the half and game, as well as for the occasional second-down pass. But everyone figures Scott is going to be the feature back.

“He’s a guy that needs a couple of plays to get adjusted, warmed up a little bit, and then he makes big plays,” Leonard said. “It’s tough to do to just go in there for a couple of plays and then you’re out. Now he has a start and I know he’ll do a job.”

Scott came into this season averaging 4.6 yards per carry but he’s managing just 2.8 yards per this season and his longest run is just nine yards. His 61-yarder as a rookie is Cincinnati's longest run from scrimmage in the last 10 seasons and part of the problem, head coach Marvin Lewis has suggested, is that he’s moving his feet faster than the play because he’s so anxious knowing he’ll only get a few carries.

“Sometimes it’s like that. I just have to run to where I see,” Scott said. “Run with my eyes and don’t second-guess myself.”

The Bengals won’t second-guess their running scheme for Sunday. Gruden said they may use a couple of different plays that highlight the difference in Benson and Scott, but it won’t be much of a switch.

“Just let those guys play. If you try and start changing, it affects things and they see it differently,” Whitworth said. “It’s important you keep blocking it and prepare the way you prepare.”

UP AND ADAM: The NFL’s top-ranked defense already boasts five first-round picks and the sixth one is primed to join the club for Sunday’s game Seattle when the Bengals play the league’s next-to-worst offense after cornerback Adam Jones’s first practice in 367 days Monday morning.

“Not a bad deal; now we have to play like that,” said cornerback Leon Hall, one of the six-pack. “After you get in the NFL and get on a team, it doesn’t really matter. It’s just about how you play.”

But Hall and his mates realize Jones just isn’t your average midseason pickup. Even though he hasn’t played in a year and has played just five games in the last three seasons, he showed flashes Monday why he was the highest drafted of the six-pack at No. 6 by the Titans in 2005.

“He looked good for being out a year and playing against an offense for the first time,” Hall said. “His best attribute is his athleticism. He’s quick and fast, but what he’s doing out there is just being an athlete and making plays.”

The thinking is if Jones is going to be active Sunday, he’ll be the first cornerback in the game behind the starters, Hall and Nate Clements.

The practice kicked off a three-week window during which Jones, on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) with a herniated neck disc, may work with the team without being counted against the 53-player roster limit. He could be added at any point during the three weeks. There is a roster spot available with Benson serving that one-game suspension that Jones can fill if the coaches feel he practices well enough.

How ironic is that? Jones getting on the roster in place of a guy serving a penalty for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy? But the biggest obstacle this time has been physical.

There was a very real fear that Jones’s career was over because he needed a second surgery just a few weeks before training camp to finish the healing of an already delicate injury.

But on Monday he chortled, “You only have two choices: stand up or fold.”

Many remember last year that even though he played in just five games, he was well on the comeback trail. After his 2008 season in Dallas was cut short by off-field problems and cost him a job in the 2009 season, Jones had plenty left. Especially in that last game in hometown Atlanta, a year to the day of Monday’s return to practice.

He got his first start in two years and returned a kick for 45 yards that got called back for a hold before he got hurt when he fielded a punt and took a shot in the shoulder and neck area when he was on the ground. But Jones stayed in the game and belted Falcons receiver Roddy White on a five-yard catch, ripped the ball out of his hands, and picked up the fumble for a 59-yard return for a touchdown that gave the Bengals their short-lived 25-24 lead with 1:16 left in the third quarter of a game they would lose, 39-22. Minutes later the pain became too much and he had to leave.

“Any time you can get a guy like that that can run and cover like he can he’s going to help you,” Hall said. “And he’s a little guy (5-10, 185), but he comes up and hits you.”

Just where Jones stands now is anyone’s guess. There’s no question, he says, that he now knows defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s system “inside and out.” Zimmer’s relationship with Deion Sanders, the Hall of Fame cornerback he coached in Dallas late in his career, is key in this comeback story.

In the spring of 2010, Sanders stuck his neck out recommending Jones to Zimmer. Then Zimmer stuck his neck out raising Jones’s name. It has been a good relationship for him, Jones says, because Zimmer’s hard-driving style and critical coaching suit him.

“I come from that coaching background that’s pretty strict. I think that’s why I’m the player I am today,” Jones said. “I would rather him get on me than not get on me. When he’s not on me, it’s time for me to find my new place. So it’s a good thing that he is.”

Zimmer challenged Jones, a guy that used to live on freelancing, to play within the scheme or he was gone. He’s still here. So he knows what he has to do.

“The technique is the main thing. I feel good physically,” said Jones, who has simulated play from scrimmage while working on the side. “The hardest part is for six weeks watching a group of guys playing really hard, having fun and playing good. I’m eager.

“I’ve got a smile on my face. I slipped a few times. The field was a little wet but I felt good coming out of my breaks and catching kicks and kick returns.”

Jones suddenly becomes a dangerous option at both kick and punt returner if special teams coach Darrin Simmons decides to give teams a different look other than Brandon Tate, although Tate is among the league leaders in punt returns of longer than 15 yards.

SLANTS AND SCREENS

» Outside linebacker Keith Rivers (wrist), also on PUP, didn’t work Monday and it’s unclear when he’ll be able to take the field.

» Also not working on the first day after the five-day layoff was middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (ankle) and outside linebacker Thomas Howard (hamstring). Maualuga said last week the best-case scenario for his return is Nov. 6 in Tennessee. Maualuga tweeted Monday his cast is off and he's doing better.

» Right tackle Andre Smith worked on the side, but it didn’t appear to be a serious problem. He said after practice he expects to play.

» Expect the Bengals to appeal running back Cedric Peerman's fine for his detonation block against the Colts that let loose Tate on his huge 33-yard punt return to set up a Bengals touchdown. Peerman can do no wrong these days. His work in that game back on Oct. 16 made him the first player in Simmons's nine seasons with the Bengals to get back-to-back game balls for special teams. 

 

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