August 14, 2011
As the Steelers' starting left tackle, Jonathan Scott can say he has $102 million in his back pocket.
A few yards behind his back pocket, that is.
That's where Ben Roethlisberger drops back to pass, and Scott — who's on his third franchise in six seasons — is the blind-side protector for that $102-million quarterback.
Scott is one of several no-name players around the NFL who are stepping into high-pressure jobs, along the offensive line and elsewhere.
From a linebacker with the Broncos, to a defensive tackle for the Packers, to big blockers up front for the Bears, Eagles and Steelers, this is a season when some pivotal players can go from "Who's he?" to who's who.
Start with Scott. He survived a massive cost-cutting purge of the Steelers, who started camp $10 million over the cap and needed to trim the fat. They restructured a slew of contracts and got rid of some big-name players, among them tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams.
Scott signed a one-year deal and stuck around, giving him a touch of stability in a career in which he has gone from the Lions to the Bills to the Steelers.
It's not like he's coming in cold. First of all, he played under Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler with the Lions and Bills. And Scott started nine games for the Steelers last season, logging time at both tackle spots. He started on the left side in the Super Bowl and, despite his share of rough patches last season, was generally on an upward trajectory.
Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' top personnel man, says Scott gained a lot of confidence last season.
"But he has to prove that he can go 16 games and be an efficient starter," he said. "Whether he will or not, we won't know until 16 games."
A good barometer of how Scott is doing will be Roethlisberger. If the quarterback is upright, that's a good thing. If he's corkscrewed into the turf, well …
Some other little-known players with a lot resting on their shoulder pads:
Safety Rashad Johnson, Cardinals: Just last week, Johnson overheard teammates and Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson say, "I wanted Rashad to take my job one day." No one could have guessed that would happen so soon. Now, Wilson is out with a torn biceps tendon, and Johnson, a third-year pro who never has been tested as an every-down safety, is the man. Good thing the Cardinals have something of a soft start to the regular season, against young quarterbacks for the Panthers, Redskins and Seahawks.
Tackle Jah Reid, Ravens: It looks like Reid, a third-round pick from Central Florida, will beat out Oneil Cousins as the Ravens' starting right tackle. Reid surely will go through some growing pains, but he impressed coaches right off the bat. He signed his contract on the second day of camp and spent the first half of that day running through a conditioning test. When he finished, he pulled on his uniform, ran onto the practice field and, without a hiccup of hesitation, stepped right into a spot on the No. 1 line.
Linebacker Joe Mays, Broncos: You have to hand it to Mays, who came to the Broncos last year in a trade with the Eagles: He picks his friends well. During the lockout, he faithfully worked out with fellow Eagle-turned-Bronco Brian Dawkins, among the most respected players in football. Mays, a sixth-round pick from North Dakota State in 2008, clearly soaked in as much good advice as he could. Now, he's the starting middle linebacker for a defense John Fox is transforming into a 4-3. His regular-season debut at that spot can't get much bigger — at home against the Raiders on "Monday Night Football."
Tackle J'Marcus Webb, Bears: Webb started 12 games for the Bears at right tackle. Now, he moves over to the left side, where line coach Mike Tice thinks he has the athletic ability to handle that premier job. That's quite a compliment, considering Webb was a seventh-round pick out of West Texas A&M. He's playing a pivotal role on a very young line that includes rookie Gabe Carimi at right tackle and third-year man Lance Louis at right guard.
Defensive end Mike Neal, Packers: If the Packers don't miss Cullen Jenkins this season, they probably will have Neal to thank. They are hoping to get some disruptive plays out of Neal this season, a year after he spent the bulk of his rookie year on injured reserve with a bum shoulder. Jenkins, the team's playmaker on the defensive line last season, is now with the Eagles.
Tackle Ryan Harris, Eagles: Because Michael Vick is left-handed, the right tackle protects his blind side. That responsibility was supposed to go to Winston Justice, but he was slow to recover from a knee injury. In desperation, the Eagles found Harris as a replacement. He showed a lot of promise in his first couple of years with the Broncos, but battled injuries and inconsistency the last two seasons. If the Eagles got the good Harris, they got a steal. If they got the bad one, there will be no hiding him in that spot.
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