River Dancer

8-21-00, 11:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Darnay Scott, who has caught some of the most memorable bombs on the river, thinks he has plenty of fireworks left to light up Paul Brown Stadium.

Scott missed the stadium's inaugural season last year with a broken leg and although he's been in the stands, he's never been down on the field.

Until Saturday. Against Buffalo. The River Dancer returns with 24 career home touchdowns.

"It's a wonderful stadium. I'm looking forward to putting my mark there," Scott said before Tuesday's practice here at Georgetown College. "You know, dig my foot in the grass and see how I like it.

"I want to get the feeling of seeing the ball in the lights when it comes out of the sky," Scott said, "and run in there."

Here is the prototype speed receiver who has been down on the river so long that he has:

_caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from David Klingler at Riverfront Stadium in 1994.

_caught Boomer Esiason's last NFL pass on a 77-yard touchdown farewell fling at Cinergy Field in 1997.

_scored the Bengals' last touchdown ever at Riverfront/Cinergy on a 52-yard strike from Jeff Blake in 1999.

Scott has gone long into history, but he thinks he can go long enough at the ripe old age of 29 to still those whispers of "possession receiver," making the rounds since the emergence of rookie burner Chad Johnson.

He's caught touchdown passes from four quarterbacks in Klingler, Blake, Esiason, and Neil O'Donnell. He has yet to catch a regular-season touchdown from any of the current Bengals quarterbacks, but he knows No. 5 is coming. And maybe Nos. 6 and 7.

"Man, that says something. Four quarterbacks," Scott said. "I'm doing the same things that I was doing before. . .If I'm not as fast as Chad, then he's not going to beat me flat out and he's got the young, fast nice legs."

Maybe it's because people think he can't run like he did because of the leg. Or maybe it's because Johnson (like Scott did back in '94) is taking people's

breath away with his speed and confidence. Maybe it's just because people can't remember back to the last century.

But Scott doesn't mind that he's getting overlooked long term.

"I can still go deep. But Chad is a fast, young guy with the fresh legs. Let him catch all the long balls," Scott said. "I'd rather follow him. I'll just catch all the short ones with Peter (Warrick)."

Scott has caught four balls this preseason and while only one has been longer than 20 yards, he's got a touchdown. Spend a minute with some Bengals cornerbacks and they let you know quickly Scott can and has run by people this summer.

"He's fast both ways. In the first few yards and then deeper" said Robert Bean, who didn't play against him every day for an extended amount until this camp. "He's really good at breaking your cushion in your back pedal and then once the ball is in the air, he goes and gets it."

Rodney Heath, who worked against him in Scott's Pro Bowl-like '99 season, said Scott still has all the moves. Particularly when it comes to forcing corners into bad technique.

"One thing about Darnay," said Jim Lippincott, Bengals director of pro/college personnel, "is you hardly ever see him make a cut when the corner has both shoulders square to him."

Heath says you can't keep them square because, "his first five yards are so fast, that by the time you get to 15 yards, you have to open up."

In '99, Scott had to be the speed guy because Carl Pickens was at the end of his career and putting a capital "P," in possession receiver.

"I don't think he's lost anything," Heath said. "I think there are different receivers here now and he can be both possession and speed. He's a double threat. You've got him, Chad and Peter in the middle. That's a triple threat that nobody knows about yet, but they're soon going to find out."

All receivers coach Steve Mooshagian has needed to see is Scott's infamous "second gear," the one he uses to separate from the corner when the ball is in the air. He saw it last week against Detroit. But even though Scott separated from the coverage on a bomb, the ball was a bit overthrown.

"He's still got that and I haven't seen anything that would say he can't run like he used to," Mooshagian said. "I know our guys still fear him. He's technically sound and he's a better catch than he has been. To say he's just a possession receiver, I don't think you can say that."

The similarities between Johnson and Scott are striking. Both slid to the second round because of supposed character problems that haven't surfaced in the pros. Both have flashed the gold teeth and a sprinter's confidence. Both are following a big-play guy (Scott was two years behind Pickens; Johnson is a year behind Warrick) who could complement their speed.

When Mooshagian was at Fresno State, he coached against Scott's San Diego State team twice and thinks Johnson may be slightly ahead of Scott when Scott was a rookie because of the pro influence at Oregon State, but "it's pretty darn close."

Scott's most memorable catches on the river? He's got to think for a bit, but there's no mistake: Oct. 30, 1994, the day the Bengals nearly stunned the Super Bowl champion Cowboys on his touchdown catches of 67 and 55 yards in Blake's first NFL start.

"Those have to be the biggest two," Scott said. "But there have been a lot and I'd like to get a few more at Paul Brown."

He has watched Warrick jump into the front row of the end-zone stands after scoring.

"That's what I'm going to do," Scott said to Warrick Tuesday.

"Paul Brown Leap," Warrick said. "That's what I call it."

After 24 touchdowns on the river, there is time for a first for Scott.

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