Bernard Scott, the first Bengals rookie running back to have a 100-yard game since Corey Dillon, idolized another great back closer to home in Vernon, Texas. And he hopes when the Bengals open their season in 18 days in the Hall of Fame Game against Emmitt Smith's Cowboys that he'll finally be able to meet the game's all-time leading rusher the day after his enshrinement in Canton.
"He wasn't that big and he wasn't that fast, but he ran with a lot of heart," Scott says. "Plus, the Cowboys were my team. I still follow them."
Scott, of course, backs up another Texas guy in Cedric Benson heading into his second season and depending how Benson's meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell goes Thursday, Scott could get a shot at another 100-yard game. ProFootballTalk.com has reported the two will meet to discuss Benson's May assault charge stemming from an incident in a Texas bar and while Goodell has suspended players before their cases get heard in court, the Bengals sound optimistic that Benson won't get docked games because he ended up defending himself.
On Tuesday head coach Marvin Lewis said Benson was "sucker-punched" and "jumped," and didn't "initiate" the confrontation. But while Benson's fate is in Goodell's hands, Scott's near future is pretty well sketched out. No matter what happens on Park Avenue, Scott should get plenty of work in Canton (as well as fellow backs Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman) while Benson eases into things.
After missing a good chunk of June with a badly sprained ankle, Scott says he'll be ready for the bell at the first Bengals practice of training camp, a 9 a.m. whistle next Thursday at Georgetown College in Kentucky that starts a season in which he could emerge as one of quarterback Carson Palmer's most versatile weapons.
"I'm fine. I'm doing the drills. I'm cutting. I've been running for about a month," Scott says.
Scott knows that there are concerns about his 5-10-195-pound durability, especially after cramps forced him from that 119-yard effort in Oakland and the turf toe that robbed him of another 100-yard day the next week against Cleveland when he left with 89 yards and didn't play for the next three games. Even when he's healthy he's not seen as a full-time banger, but like James Brooks, Scott has that 230-pound bell-cow mentality in a 195-pound body.
"I want them to know I can be durable and reliable. The cramps, I put that on me," he says. "I was used to getting a lot of reps and a lot of snaps in practice and I feel I learned from that. If I don't get the reps, then after practice I've got to come in and do extra in the weight room. I think I learned from that."
This is why Scott is looking physically and mentally more and more like another late-round steal in the tradition of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Jon Fanene, Chinedum Ndukwe and Morgan Trent. A sixth-rounder out of tiny Abilene Christian, Scott had Palmer calling him "young fella" after some dazzling preseason moves and the AFC calling him Special Teams Player of the Week after his 96-yard kick return was the game's only touchdown in the 18-12 win in what amounted to the AFC North title game in Pittsburgh.
Not only that, plays like Scott's 61-yarder against the Raiders was the Bengals' longest run in 117 games, seven years, and two head coaches since Dillon's 67-yard touchdown against the Colts in 2002 and have caught the attention of offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. Throw in a 23-yard catch out of a first-and-20 that led to Cincinnati's only touchdown in that Nov. 29 win over Cleveland and Scott is getting moved around on the offseason blackboard.
Bratkowski admits he probably hasn't had a back as explosive catching the ball out of the backfield in his 10 seasons here. Chris Perry could have been, but… . Scott had just five catches last season, but he has to start being counted like free-agent wide receiver Antonio Bryant, rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham and rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley as one of Palmer's new guns of August.
It helps. It is one of the ingredients that hasn't always been there. In Palmer's five full seasons, the two years he has had a back catch more than 30 balls (Perry's 51 in 2005 and Kenny Watson's 52 in 2007), he has had his two most accurate seasons.
"No question he's the kind of guy you want to put the ball in his hands," Bratkowski says. "You can use him in the slot; you can do some different things with him."
Music to Scott's ears. You're talking about a guy that in his senior year on the way to winning the Division II Heisman Trophy had seven touchdowns against some place called West Texas and averaged 17.6 yards per 47 catches to go along with 2,156 rushing yards. But seven TDs are seven TDs and 17.6 is…
"If I have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can make a big play and help the team," Scott says. "If they want to put me in the slot, and throw me a couple balls out of the backfield, that's fine, too. We did a little bit of that (this spring) in camp. Now that I'm more familiar with the offense, I think they've got the confidence that I know what I'm doing and they can use me doing more things."
Bratkowski would love to make Scott more dangerous by putting him into games regularly and using him as both a runner and receiver to keep the defense guessing. Ideally he could rotate him with Benson every third series or so to also prevent Benson from wearing down, but the dilemma is that Benson is the kind of guy that thrives on getting into a flow and feeding off the more carries he gets.
It has to be more feel than plan.
While the Bengals see Scott and Leonard as bell-cow complements to Benson and would like a backup that can carry it 75-100 times in a month if need be like when Benson hurt his hip last year, Scott has the belief he can do it. You're talking about a guy that had 313 touches as a senior and even though it was in the Lone Star Conference, the workhorse mentality is there.
"I just have to convince the coaches (by) the way I practice to give me more opportunities," Scott says. "Honestly, I think I can carry it as much as they want me to. If they need me 20 times, 10 times, I can do it. Last year I wasn't in the best of shape because I wasn't used to not getting the work. I was in shape at the start, but it fell off during the season. Now no matter, I'll be in better shape."
First things first. There is Canton and maybe a meeting with Smith.
"I'll tell him I respect his game," says Scott if they meet.
Smith could be saying the same thing.
It's not West Texas and the Lone Star Conference anymore.