Steelers cornerback Scott becomes howling success

Ex-Terp is primary figure in secondary

November 03, 2001|By Chuck Finder | Chuck Finder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PITTSBURGH - Chad Scott looked up at the toy action figure hanging from the top of his Steelers stall and smiled. Not many professional football players put their number on the back of an 8-inch child's plaything and place it on such a pedestal. Not many players look up to ... Wolverine?

"Yeah, my family knows I'm the X-Man," the former Maryland standout said of the folks back in Capitol Heights. After seeing the movie X-Men last year, the Pittsburgh starting left cornerback began gesturing after his defensive plays, crossing his forearms and wiggling his fingers, marking the spot with an X. Then came this Wolverine business. "I just like the character," he said of the movie's main character.

Now he impersonates the relentless comic-book tough guy on NFL fields.

Slash. With his lithe fingers, he rips passes from the air. His three interceptions not only lead the Steelers (5-1), who play host to the Ravens at Heinz Field tomorrow, but also constitute half of those nabbed by the league's second-leading pass defense.

Swoosh. With his quickness and elusiveness, he runs away from opponents. His 149 yards in interception returns - including a 61-yarder for a touchdown against Kansas City - surpass the totals of 25 NFL teams.

Growl. With his tenacity, he forces foes to shy away from his side of the field. His seven pass deflections are barely half the 13 recorded by the busy Steelers cornerback on the other side, Dewayne Washington.

"It's another fun thing I like to do: envision [myself] as like a superhero when [I'm] out there playing," said Scott.

Before training camp, the fifth-year cornerback signed a five-year, $25 million contract that ensured both he and Washington - who signed a four-year, $20 million deal - would man the corners of this Steelers defense for a long time.

Early in training camp, Scott took to draping yellow police tape to his helmet, his way of showing that passes in his direction would be entering a dangerous area. Then, in mid-August, came what many believe was the watershed moment in the latest professional growth spurt of Scott, 27."[Since-released receiver] Joey Getherall beat him for a touchdown," said defensive coordinator Tim Lewis. "Then he came back and intercepted three straight passes."

In fact, it was three in the next five plays.

"He's got the ability to dominate at cornerback," Lewis said. "And he's dead-set on trying to get that done."

After the Steelers' season-opening 21-3 loss in the Jacksonville rain, Scott and the Steelers went to work. He had key interceptions in each of their next three victories against Buffalo, Cincinnati and Kansas City. He tipped a pass Monday in the Steelers' 34-7 dismantling of Tennessee and helped nose tackle Kendrick Clancy corral his first career interception.

The Cincinnati turnover underscored the new Scott. He has studied so intently under defensive backs coach Willy Robinson and learned so well the past two years, that the cornerback knew the pass play better than Cincinnati's receivers. He made it look as if Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna were actually throwing him the ball.

"He's learned how to become effective and how to use the tools that he has," Lewis said of Scott, 6 feet 1 and 201 pounds. "It's neat to see the growth."

The Steelers drafted the former Maryland walk-on and one-time Towson State player from Suitland High with the No. 24 overall selection in 1997. They almost immediately inserted him into the starting lineup of a defense that went on to the AFC championship game. "Played against John Elway twice that year, and I had pretty good games," he said of his rookie season.

The next May, in a volunteer workout, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and missed the entire 1998 season after having knee surgery.

Midway through the 1999 season, he injured the other knee and missed three games. Last season, his first completely healthy year in the NFL, Scott tied for the Steelers' lead in pass deflections (25) and interceptions (five).

As for this season, "he's healthy," safety Lee Flowers said. "He's not worried about hurting anything."

Said Scott of his 1998 knee injury: "It took awhile to get over that. Not too many guys playing corner with a reconstructed knee."

Scott has blossomed so much through a half-dozen games this season that his teammates are touting him as a Pro Bowl candidate.

"There ain't nobody playing better than Chad," Washington said.

Added Flowers: "Oh, definitely. I mean, teams are starting to see that. That's why teams don't throw to his side now. He's starting to feel the game more and understand that he's one of the best corners in the league. His confidence is extremely high, and you can see it on the field."

"Wolverine is a real animal; he's supposed to be the most tenacious as far as chasing down his prey," Scott said. "They can run for miles, but Wolverine will always continue chasing them. That's why I like him."

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