Rising star Scott needs an encore of last year

The Baltimore Sun

Ravens linebacker Bart Scott has already made the transition from being an unknown to a starter, but the 2007 season will probably determine his true value.

The road to the NFL has been a long one for Scott, who made his first Pro Bowl last season after five seasons in the league. But stardom is recognized by consistency, and even though 2006 was a breakthrough season for Scott, he has to prove it wasn't a fluke.

The question is: Can he do it again and again, like a Ray Lewis or a Jonathan Ogden? He has gotten endorsements from defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and teammate Ed Reed, a three-time Pro Bowl safety himself.

"Here is a guy who is self-made and has worked very hard to establish himself in this league," Ryan said. "There is still a lot of potential for growth."

Reed said: "Me and Bart came in here together, and we're still holding the fort down. Bart is going to continue to get better. It's just a matter of him playing within himself and doing the things he can do best."

Scott was second on the team in tackles last season with 135, good enough to earn a spot as first alternate on the AFC Pro Bowl squad. He replaced Lewis because Lewis supposedly suffered an injury, but there was speculation that Lewis wanted Scott to experience playing in the game and gaining more exposure.

And that certainly helps Scott coming into this season. In the past, he has lived in the shadows of Lewis and Peter Boulware. Since 2000, the Ravens have become as reputable as Penn State once was as far as turning out quality linebackers such as Jamie Sharper, Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas.

Last year was a breakthrough season for Scott. This one could be a breakout.

"I'm going to take that back when I go to negotiations for my next contract," Scott said, starting to laugh.

Don't laugh. He will.

Scott knows he is the newcomer on the block as far as greatness. He has improved every year, and a key this year for getting more recognition is how well he gets along with other players on the field. His peers have a vote in the Pro Bowl selections, and Scott hasn't made a lot of friends.

He talks so much trash.

On the field, he has insulted Hines Ward's heritage and Jerome Bettis' weight. His explosions have triggered more explosions by head coach Brian Billick in efforts to silence him. Last year, he mocked the league by repeatedly calling New Orleans Saints rookie running back Reggie Bush the NFL's poster child, and then drew criticism after tossing Bush's ankle to the ground after a tackle.

A week after the Ravens lost to Indianapolis in the playoffs last season, Scott said on public radio that he wanted the Colts to lose in the AFC title game because he wanted Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to keep feeling miserable about not playing in the Super Bowl.

Nice guy, huh? Even his teammates are targets. Listen to what he said recently about Marshal Yanda, a rookie out of Iowa: "He plays with a lot of intensity, and he's a nasty guy, which we always like. We don't have a lot of nasty guys over there on the offensive side, but I think he brings an attitude and a swagger. I heard he was a pig farmer coming in, and it doesn't get any [more] gutter than that. You got farmer street cred."

No wonder Suggs nicknamed him "The Mad Backer." As Thomas once suggested, you can take Scott out of Detroit, but you can't take the Detroit out of Scott.

But Scott isn't some unappreciative loudmouth. He's quite the opposite. He arrived in Baltimore from a nearly abandoned, drug-ravaged community in southeast Detroit that had seen its best days when the city was still the king of the auto industry.

The Ravens signed him as a free agent out of Southern Illinois, and he had to start at the bottom, on special teams.

"Every day I step out here I feel like I'm playing with the house's money," Scott said. "I couldn't have written the script any better, and I'm very appreciative when I come out here. I live it up every day. Every day is special for me because you're talking about my sixth year. I didn't think I could make it one or two.

"I was just trying to make the team, make an impact and maybe be an inspiration to another free agent that's coming out. I think this is a tremendous responsibility, and I am gracious."

Scott's responsibilities have changed this year. With Thomas playing for the New England Patriots, Scott will probably have to drop into coverage more as opposed to blitzing often last season. With the recognition of a year ago, there also comes another new role.

Scott has to become a leader.

"I like to lead from the back," Scott said. "We've got Ray, Ed and Todd Heap leading from the front, and I feel that if you've got some guys leading and pulling, then I can push from the back. I can really teach those guys from the back anything that they think may not matter, and I push them and let them know that they may be one injury away from being a superstar."

In the case of Scott, it's a little different. It's more like one season.


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