Scott aims to be great again

ON THE RAVENS

Pro Football

June 08, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

The "Mad Backer" is back, even though he says he never went away.

Ravens Pro Bowl inside linebacker Bart Scott has been running around at practice like a kid coming home after a long absence.

He likes the new scheme, which was last used in 2006.

"Bart is back to being Bart," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "We're not going to play defense like last year where our hands were tied behind our backs because of injuries and we got too cute.

"We're going back to being aggressive because we have some depth and let people like Bart play their game."

Scott, going into his seventh season, has always been at his best when the Ravens are unpredictable. He is basically a blitzing linebacker, and he can come from anywhere.

But last year, that role changed with Scott taking on more of the job left vacated by New England Patriots outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, who left the Ravens in free agency after the 2006 season.

Scott was forced to drop into coverage more. Instead of playing man-to-man defense, at which he was strong, he would get lost in the team's zone coverages.

Because Ravens starting cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister were injured most of the season, Scott was forced to hold up wide receivers at the line of scrimmage or drop deep into coverages so the replacement cornerbacks wouldn't get exposed.

"It was tough for me," said Scott, who was second on the team in tackles last season with 94. "They had me swiping a lot at receivers and undercutting receivers. They didn't turn me loose. I like to talk trash, play hard and get after the quarterback."

Scott, like the rest of the Ravens, had trouble sacking the passer last year. The Ravens had just 32 sacks compared with 60 in 2006. Scott had only one, down from 9.5 the previous season.

The Ravens clearly missed defensive tackle-end Trevor Pryce, who was out most of last season with injuries. Pryce drew constant double teams, freeing up pass-rushing specialists such as Terrell Suggs and Scott.

But with no Pryce, and with Scott playing on the weak side or the same side as Suggs, teams were able to target both of them.

"I knew I would draw a lot of attention because of the success I had the season before," Scott said. "Without Trevor, teams turned their protection toward me and Suggs because we were always on the weak side.

"We became too predictable. In a self-scouting report, Cam [Cameron, the new offensive coordinator] alerted us to the fact that every time I lined up at middle linebacker, I was going to blitz. At one point, I was used as a decoy because everyone knew that if we were going to blitz, it was going to be me."

That scheme has changed, and so has one other thing: The knee injury that Scott suffered at the end of 2006 has completely healed. Last offseason, he didn't do any workouts on his lower body.

He wore a brace in training camp and for the first half of the 2007 season.

But as soon as last season ended, Scott was back in the weight room. He is at full strength for the first time in more than a year.

According to Ryan and Scott, Scott will be lining up in different places again. Besides blitzing Scott, the defense will be blitzing Ray Lewis more and asking Lewis to take on more of the penetrating hits.

The Ravens can free up Scott more because Pryce is healthy again and the team has depth at corner. If McAlister and Rolle go down again, free-agent cornerback acquisitions Fabian Washington and Frank Walker are capable replacements.

This could be a big year for Scott. It needs to be, because he is in the final year of his contract.

"I think Bart is happy now. He wants to be here," Ryan said. "This is a big year for him. He's going to get paid one way or another."

Scott said: "I thought I had a good all-around season last year. You just can't measure success with sacks, but also in hurries and if you're drawing blocks and forcing them to go to the other side.

"I'm ecstatic about this season. I think I matured last season in some of the areas I was weak, and the knee is healthy again.

"Because of injuries, we couldn't go into games with all our bag of tricks. But this year we're back to smacking guys in the mouth again, and not letting teams get off the hook."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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