A fruitful beginning

October 06, 2006

Before Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers, Bart Scott stood in the middle of the locker room and told teammates about what it meant to hear his name introduced for the first time at his home stadium.

It represented another milestone in a four-year journey that took him from an undrafted rookie to a starting linebacker to a top playmaker in the NFL.

"When he spoke to the team, it brought a tear to the eye," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It was emotional and it was heartfelt. That tells you everything you need to know about Bart."

Scott's passion and determination for the game come from the fact that he nearly never got a chance to play in the NFL - because of an apple.

After being benched during his junior season at Southern Illinois, Scott got into a heated argument with his coach for eating during halftime. This rift with the coaching staff resulted in his missing the final six games of the season, which labeled him a character risk to NFL teams and led scouts not to look closely at such a Division I-AA prospect.

Scott wasn't asked to the NFL combine. He wasn't invited to all-star games.

Only the Ravens went to look at Scott. They offered him a $500 signing bonus and his only opportunity at the NFL.

"I almost had my livelihood taken away over an apple," Scott said. "That's where a lot of my anger [on the field] comes from."

Scott has become the NFL's breakthrough defensive player of the season, showing great athleticism, instincts and explosion to make some of the most impressive game-changing plays.

He's a major reason the defense is ranked No. 2 in the NFL. He's a major reason the Ravens are 4-0.

Two weeks ago in Cleveland, Scott was closing in from the blind side on a pivotal fourth-quarter play, forcing Browns quarterback Charlie Frye to hurry his throw and get intercepted by cornerback Chris McAlister in the end zone.

On Sunday against San Diego, Scott blanketed Chargers tight end Antonio Gates before making his first interception of the season. Scott's 24-yard return - which featured cutbacks like a running back - paved the way for the Ravens' first touchdown.

"He is having one heck of a season right now," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Bart is on his way to doing some really great things."

Scott seems to be everywhere on the field. He's stuffing running backs by attacking the line of scrimmage. He's pressuring quarterbacks with his blitzes up the middle.

His eye-popping play has impressed nearly everyone, except Scott.

Scott is tied for the NFL lead with five sacks. But he says he's missed two easy ones this season.

Scott has led the Ravens in tackles the past two weeks. But he says he should have made 24 tackles instead of 19 against the Chargers.

"I haven't played my best football," Scott said. "I haven't even come close to it."

Scott's relentless determination is the reason he's wreaking havoc on offenses these days.

He came to the Ravens as a raw talent in 2002 and carved a niche on special teams. But he never lost focus on trying to crack the starting lineup.

If he would get beat on a route by tight end Todd Heap in practice, Scott would ask Heap, "What do I have to do? What are you reading? What are you seeing from me that you're cutting off this route?"

Said Heap: "He's done nothing but work the last four years. It's spectacular to see guys like that step up."

Scott said he was ready to start last season, when linebacker Ed Hartwell left to join the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent. Instead of promoting Scott to fill that starting role, the Ravens signed Tommy Polley.

It wasn't until Lewis went down with a torn hamstring last October that Scott got his chance with the first-team defense. After proving he could be a quality starter, the Ravens made Scott a priority in free agency, re-signing him to a three-year, $13.5 million contract.

If Lewis hadn't gotten hurt, Scott said his future could have been different.

"I would probably be somewhere else trying to make it and wouldn't have the instant credibility," Scott said. "No one would know if I could play a lick."

With his play this season - which has already earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Month - Scott is no longer the Ravens' best-kept secret.

"He has worked very, very hard to get where he is today," said Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta, who looked at Scott in college. "It's not been an easy process for him. There's been a big learning curve. A lot of guys have his type of ability and don't jump through all those hoops.

"It's a testament to Bart and a testament to the coaching that he's gotten. He's improved a lot, as much as anybody on our team. Now, he's putting it all together and he's become a great football player."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Scott vs. Lewis

A comparison of the first 14 starts for Bart Scott and Ray Lewis:

Player Yr. Tackles Sacks Int. Passes def.

Scott '05-'06 151 ....... 9 ....... 1 ...... 11

Lewis '96 142 ..... 2.5 ......1 ...... 6

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