BY GEOFF HOBSON - GEORGETOWN, Ky.
When he woke up this morning, Bengals wide receiver Darnay Scott was arguably the fastest man in the NFL when the ball is in the air. But as quickly as he went down the field, there were questions today if he could ever play in the NFL again.
Or, if he would ever regain the speed that made him one of the NFL's most feared deep threats with nine career touchdown catches of more than 50 yards.
"It's going to be a very big challenge for him to come back and be a speed receiver," said Bengals trainer Paul Sparling. "No question about it."
The pop was so loud wide receiver James Hundon thought it was two helmets colliding. But that sound wasn't only the Bengals' optimistic preseason bubble bursting. It was the sound of a man's career in jeopardy. With the bones pushing against the skin to deform his leg, stunned teammates turned away, some firing their helmets into the ground.
When tight end Marco Battaglia overwhelmed a defender and accidently threw him on the back of the leg as Scott blocked rookie cornerback Robert Bean, it broke the two bones in Scott's lower left leg. The tibia and the fibula each had one fracture, Sparling said.
Scott is to undergo surgery tonight at Deaconess Hospital in Cincinnati, where Dr. Kevin Reilly and Bengals team docor Rob Heidt Jr., planned to insert a rod and a couple of anchor nails in Scott's tibia during a procedure that would take several hours. The fibula is to heal on its own, but Sparling said even if all goes well, the bones won't mend for at least three more months.
Sparling compared Scott's break to the most infamous injury in Bengals history, current defensive line coach Tim Krumrie's broken leg in Super Bowl XXIII in which he fractured the tibia in one place and the fibula in several places. Scott didn't have any cartilage or ligament damage or an ankle injury like Krumrie did 11 years ago. But it's serious enough because Scott relies so much on his speed.
"Look at the demands on Darnay and what we've got to do get him back to that thoroughbred, that speed guy," Sparling said. "He's got a long road ahead of him."
Krumrie just so happened to be standing yards away today and heard the sickening pop.
"I knew something broke," Krumrie said. "I didn't know what broke. But I knew something did. You feel bad for the guy."
Krumrie tried to phone Scott tonight to commiserate, but the doctors were getting him ready for surgery. Krumrie defied the skeptics during one of the greatest rehabs ever, whipping himself back in shape so he could start the 1989 opener barely seven months after the injury. But he admitted he wasn't the same guy named to two Pro Bowls.
"I'm not a doctor, so I can't tell you anything," Krumrie said. "All I can tell you about is my injury, my experience. His might be totally different. Was I as fast? I was short to my left side, I couldn't pick up my left foot as well as the right foot. I lost my ability to pick up and climb to my left, I could climb to my right better. But that was me, not him."
Krumrie thinks Scott can come back, but he says he'll have to put himself through a rough offseason.
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"The No. 1 key is proper rehab and consistent rehab on any type of injury. We know that," Krumrie said. "If he does that and follows through on all the things he's supposed to do, he'll be just fine. But if he neglects any of the above, he won't be fine because it doesn't work that way." The injury came during "thud," speed as the Bengals worked against the Bills' defense in preparation for Friday's preseason opener. The defense is required to get to the ball, and merely wrap up the ball carrier. But when he went blocking down the field, Scott simply got his feet tangled. "Two guys blocking to the whistle," said receivers coach Steve Mooshagian. "One guy overpowered another guy who lost his feet and landed on the back of the legs of (Scott) blocking a DB. It was freak. It was unfortunate. And it could have happened to any team in the NFL."