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Scott frees past

Posted Jun 5, 2009


Bernard Scott takes part in Bengals rookie minicamp last month. (Getty Images)

Posted: 4:20 a.m.

There are just numbers. And there are whole numbers. Odd numbers. Even numbers. Even whole numbers.

Then there are Bernard Scott numbers.

Try 2,165 yards and 39 touchdowns in 2008. Try 1,892 yards and 27 touchdowns in one junior college season. Try 292 yards rushing, 353 total yards, seven touchdowns in Abilene Christian's '08 Division II playoff win over West Texas A&M.

Or how about 85 catches for 1,254 yards and nine touchdowns in those two dizzying years in Abilene?
 
But also try No. 28. The number he's wearing in the Bengals backfield during the spring workouts he has impressed with enough burst and speed to accelerate into the roster mix.

Try the number once worn by the Bengals all-time leading rusher. Abilene Christian coach Chris Thomsen has.

"When I was talking to Bernard and encouraging him about sticking with football, I used Corey Dillon as an example," Thomsen says.  "This was a guy that had also been to a bunch of different schools and had some problems bouncing around but he hung with it, got to a four-year school and became a great player in the NFL. That's the first thing I thought when Bernard got drafted by Cincinnati: Corey Dillon."

Scott comes in with less baggage and more yards than Dillon. All five of his arrests have been dismissed or about to be expunged and he's coming off a storybook season he won the Division II Heisman at his fourth college.

But there's the rub. How will his 5-11, 200 pounds leap from small-school cordwood to the NFL's hardwood?

"I'm in a hole and all of a sudden it closes," Scott says. "The linebackers are as fast as the DBs."

Still, he's turning heads.

Head coach Marvin Lewis is talking about his quickness and NFL athleticism. WILL linebacker Keith Rivers is talking about his speed getting to the perimeter while making a comparison to Chris Johnson, the Titans All-Everything rookie back from last year. Running backs coach Jim Anderson is talking about his willingness to learn.

"I've been blessed with ability. It doesn't matter what school you came from," Scott says. "As long as you come in and work hard every day, something positive will happen.

"I feel like I can compete with them. I feel like I'm just as good. I'm not putting anybody down, I just feel like I've got the same kind of ability. They know the game better than I do. They've been in the league longer than I have. I've realized that you can slow the game down yourself as a player once you've learned everything."

Slow isn't the right word.

His quarterback at ACU, Billy Malone, says he never saw him get caught from behind. Thomsen says the combination of Scott's vision and lightning footwork puts him at the highest level. Scott says he runs 4.4-second 40-yard dashes pretty regularly but "I play faster than I look."

Yet the Bengals took a long look at him. Thomsen says they researched Scott better than any NFL team. From Anderson using his extensive Texas connections stemming from his Southern Methodist days, to quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese's campus visit, to the scouting reports compiled in personnel. Thomsen says the Bengals turned over every rock.

And there were plenty of them, not the least of which was a November 2008 boulder in a New York Times story that touched on Scott's off-field problems, including his 2005 dismissal from Central Arkansas for reportedly hitting a coach during spring practice.

The story bothers Thomsen because he feels it took a series of fights and traffic infractions and morphed Scott into a hardened criminal. Thomsen, who left Central Arkansas two months before the April 2005 incident to take the ACU job, says it's unfair to say Scott "struck" a coach.

"From what I understand," Thomsen says, "a fight broke out between the offense and defense, which happens every day somewhere. A coach came up behind him to pull him away and grabbed him by the shoulder pads. Bernard didn't know it was a coach, player, or what. He just turned quickly and brushed his hand off of him and kept it off. When he saw it was a coach, he stopped."

The Bengals took a lot of heat for taking Scott in the sixth round, but he's got plenty of people putting their reputations on the line to support him. It begins with Thomsen, who grew up in the same small north Texas town of Vernon and played high school football with his father Daryl.

"I'm not going to make excuses for Bernard. He did some stupid things that kids do. He knows that and he takes responsibility for it," Thomsen says. "But in no way do I think Bernard Scott would hit a coach. I would never bring him here and expose my coaches to that. I've known his family for a long time. They're good people. I've watched him play since he was a sophomore in high school. I wouldn't have brought him to Abilene Christian if I thought he was going to be a problem. He's a good kid, a great teammate who was a captain. He's the kind of guy that understands it's about the team first and not about him."

Malone agrees. Told that Scott said a lot of his success was because defenses couldn't key on him because of Malone's talent and the exploits of wide receiver Johnny Knox, a fellow draft pick, Malone said, "Bernard's a humble guy."

It also begins with Scott Casterline, Scott's Dallas-based agent who has represented down through several years such NFL staples as Lincoln Kennedy, Albert Lewis, Larry Brown and Doug Cosbie. He also represents one of the more solid citizens in this past draft in Bengals receiver Quan Cosby, Scott's fellow Texan that Casterline says could be elected governor.

After talking to Thomsen as well as a member of the ACU Board of Regents, Casterline was comfortable signing him up.

"I sat down with Bernard and was really impressed. He looks you in the eye and gives you an answer," Casterline says. "Coach Thomsen vouched for his character. He's a good Christian man. He walks the walk. He's a disciplined type coach, but he's also a player's coach. Bernard grew up in a tough town. They don't say much, but they're ready to fight. We all make mistakes, but I'm not saying I approve of those actions, and he understands that and he realizes that he had to grow up."

Scott says he had no idea that the guy who grabbed him from behind was a coach, but for the second time in three years he found himself sitting out a season because of a fight. He missed his senior year at Vernon High School because of a fight at a party, and he's not pulling any punches when it comes to self-analysis.

"I know I've let my temper get the best of me at times," Scott says. "I know I've made some young-minded mistakes. But I think I've matured a lot and grown up."

He says he was wrongly accused of stealing an iPod. The charge of not identifying himself to a police officer during a traffic stop brought him 18 months probation and came about, he says, because he showed his brother's ID instead. Thomsen says a charge of evading Vernon police was the result of miscommunication. When Scott rolled through a stop sign without his license, he saw the police lights and slowly drove a few blocks to his grandmother's house to park because he feared the cost of having the car towed.

His supporters suggest that the incidents were minor enough that if he had been able to pay for legal representation, the matters most likely would have been quickly cleared up. As it is, Scott says it's all in the past and is ready to make the right decisions. At 25, the only '09 rookie older than Scott is Cosby. In fact, they are older than all the rookies the Bengals played in '08.

"I don't think," Scott says, "I would have been able to handle being here when I was 21, 22. I believe I am now."

And he looks it. Not only does he look you in the eye, but he easily asks you where you're from before explaining his tattoos. The ones on his wrist are the names of his 2-year-old son and young niece. The tattoos on each side of his neck are the names of his mother (Sheila) and grandmother (Verna Jo).

"My parents raised me up right," says Scott, the oldest of four children who grew up in a town where that wasn't easy.

Roy Orbison was born in Vernon and Barack Obama's mother lived there briefly when she was a child. It's about a three-hour drive from Abilene, as well as places like Amarillo, Oklahoma City and Dallas. His mother ("We're real close," he says) works in a bacon factory. He's still close to his dad even though the economy drove him to Florida, where he drives trucks.

Thomsen also grew up there, graduating in the class of '87. "It's small, 12,000 people," he said. "It's a very diverse town. Poor. For the most part there's not a lot of economic opportunity. He grew up in a tough part of the community. It's a football town. People are crazy about football. I enjoyed it there."

Thomsen and Scott left Vernon to lead Abilene to long-forgotten glories in '08. The Wildcats won their first outright Lone Star Conference title since 1973 and posted their first unbeaten regular season in nearly 60 years with Scott taking just two years to shatter the school records it took the legendary Wilbert Montgomery four years to compile.

"The game I remember," Thomsen says, "is the regular season game last year we played in West Texas. We were ranked 3-4 in the county and they had a tough defense, but Bernard went in there and took over the game with over 400 total yards." 

The tales that have grown up around Scott are almost as big as Texas.

Casterline hooked up Scott with Cowboys Hall of Famer Randy White for workouts and when they were on the sidelines at the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game, White turned to Casterline and said, "I haven't seen a running back do some of those things since Walter Payton."

Out of that game The National Football Post blogged that Scott had the biggest impact of any prospect and "was brilliant in practice, showing good burst, pad level and agility. In the game Saturday, he was a difference-maker, breaking off two big runs and displaying good vision and cut-back ability inside."

Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque, the guy that canned Scott, also told The Times, "He maybe is one of the best pure running backs as far as balance, skill sets, vision and elusiveness.”

And Malone, his quarterback headed to the Bills for a tryout, says, "He's the best athlete I've ever played with. He'll get to play up there. I remember one time against Angelo State in '07 he wasn't getting many yards and I could tell he was frustrated just by his face. Then we ran a little flip to him and he was gone down the sidelines for 80 yards just like that."

But Malone's most indelible memory of Scott is his first.

"We were playing catch out on the field," he says, "and he caught everything. Bad balls. High ones. Great hands."

Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson likes Scott's vision, his speed, and says "he's got the instincts of a good runner. Throw in the fact he's willing to work at it and now you've got something to work with."

The Bengals usually keep just three running backs, so it is emerging into quite a derby behind Cedric Benson, Scott's Texas soul mate. Although he didn't do it for him, Thomsen is convinced Scott can be an explosive kick returner. He doesn't know about punt return, where the Bengals are giving him a look right now, but Scott is enthusiastically catching them in practice.

"I've got a lot of confidence in my ability. I feel like I can help the running game," Scott said. "And I think I can help on special teams, too. I feel like special teams is probably going to play a big role."

Knock on wood. The Bengals' bid to find a quicksilver change-of-pace back that has been stonewalled with injuries to Chris Perry, DeDe Dorsey and Kenny Irons, may now be on the feet of a guy that never missed a college game because of injury.

"He's got that great vision and a knack for avoiding hits," Thomsen says.

The 25-year-old laughs.

"I haven't taken any hits yet," he says. "I'm fresh."

Fresh enough, he hopes, for a fresh start.

 

 

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