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Scott looks Great

4-06-01, 2:30 p.m. BY GEOFF HOBSON

Darnay Scott's cackle could be heard all the way down the field.

Which is where he ran for the first time Friday catching the football since shattering his left leg and the Bengals' season back on Aug. 1.

"He passed the first test," said Bengals trainer Paul Sparling, who expects Scott to play in next month's minicamp off Friday's work.

"He looks good. Smooth. And there's no apparent favoring of his leg at all."

It was a big moment in beleaguered Bengaland, which has been semi-paralyzed by a gnawing fear that Scott wouldn't be able to recover from breaking his tibia and fibula in the lower leg.

But here was Scott, the speedy wide receiver who appeared on the verge of the Pro Bowl after his first 1,000-yard season in 1999, turning the cackle on no one in particular after making his last catch of his first day of running routes.

It came off a route that has become the 28-year-old Scott's signature. The kind of fly pattern down the sideline that has helped Scott become the fifth most prolific receiver in Cincinnati history. The only question is if he still has that ball-in-the-air acceleration that has given him 22 games with at least one 40-yard catch.

"What did I tell you?" Scott yelled in triumph after grabbing a bomb in stride. "See? Did you see that? What are people saying?"

Scott did show a little

extra gas on that last throw, but he knows he has to drop 10 pounds to about 202, get back on his speed program when the rehab allows, and strengthen the leg.

"He should," declared beaming wide receivers coach Steve Mooshagian, "be back in the same form (as) when he left."

After months of planting on the good leg, Scott is trying to get enough confidence in planting as hard on the left leg. It should happen because he says he can't feel the rod that's in there.

"It's kind of weak on my left side," Scott said. "I can feel it running routes to my right and I'm planting on my left foot. Other than that, I'm cool. It's not all the way strong, but it will be back around. (The weakness) surprised me. I've been lifting on it every day. I've got to get it right."

But all was right with the world after the hour session with all three quarterbacks. Mooshagian recalled the first time he saw Scott back in April of '99, when Scott went on to a career-high 68 catches and 1,022 yards.

"He looks like the same guy," Mooshagian said. "He hadn't been doing much since the season was over. He looks the same running. He looks the same cutting.

"If there is any adverse effects, they will be mainly psychological," Mooshagian said. "It's just a matter of him on certain routes, some of the out cuts, just work himself through it. Just cautious."

Scott agrees it's now a mind game. But he's got his mind made up he'll be better than ever. His wit is already in mid-season form as the once serene route-running sessions became louder and edgier.

"Hey, I'm not blocking anymore," Scott joked to the quarterbacks in warmups. "Only if I'm cutting. Forget it. Run the ball the other side."

It will be recalled that Scott broke his leg blocking down field, which is when a linebacker got thrown on the back of Scott's leg.

Of course, Scott was just joking. Just like he was joking when a "4," route was called and he asked, "What's a 4?" in honor of the Bengals' new passing number tree.

But Scott knows what it is. He had the same system at San Diego State, and he'll be able to do what he did in college and play all three spots of flanker (the Z), split end (the X), and the slot. In his five previous seasons, he'd only been a flanker.

"You never know who's going to be where," Scott said. "That's what really mixed me up today. I was a little confused. I'm used to playing the Z side. Now, it's pretty much you can fall anywhere.

"I know the number tree, the route tree. I know that down pat. Wherever they put me, I can do it. On the ball off the ball, it doesn't make any difference."

But the Bengals are hoping he's a huge difference in the NFL's lowest-rated passing game.

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