Bart Scott went off on a tangent, riffing about strange men in long beards wandering the streets of Philadelphia, making little sense and making everyone laugh. It was unofficially Open Mic Afternoon in the Jets locker room and the comic was a leaner, lighter linebacker hitting his stride.
Nine months after Scott finished the most confounding season of his 10-year career, the 31-year-old is reenergized and eager to silence his critics.
“You guys tried to throw dirt on me,” Scott told the Daily News. “My prognosis: I’m going to ball out.”
From shedding 15 pounds in the offseason to mentoring second-year lineman Kenrick Ellis, Scott looks and sounds like the man Rex Ryan wanted, the guy to be the bridge of his defense when he was hired in 2009. “I can be as good as I’ve ever been,” Scott said.
“Bart’s turned back the clock,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “Last year is last year. We’re not basing any decisions on last year. Bart’s different. We have to be smart with the role that we have him in as well. We’re not going to ask Bart to do things that we’re not confident that he can do.”
Scott’s future with the Jets was in limbo after last season. Frustrated over a lack of snaps, he wondered out loud whether he’d be back. The Jets explored possible trading partners in the offseason, but nothing materialized. The Jets drafted inside linebacker DeMario Davis in the third round, which served as additional motivation for Scott.
“A lot people wrote him off,” linebacker David Harris said. “He’s hungrier, especially with them drafting an inside linebacker at the same position high in the draft. He responded in the way everybody thought he was going to respond.”
A few days after their season-ending meltdown in Miami, the Jets fined Scott $10,000 for making an obscene gesture to an overzealous photographer in the locker room. The prevailing thought in the organization was that the incident was overblown.
Scott, one of the most respected and well-liked players by teammates and coaches, agreed to a pay cut before 2011 when Ryan approached him to help free up money for the Jets to pursue other free agents. Scott also convinced LaDainian Tomlinson and Calvin Pace to take similar pay cuts.
“Really? I’m the bad dude?” Scott said about the lasting image of him exiting the locker room after last season. “I’m the one that convinced LT to take a pay cut, so we could try to get Nnamdi (Asomugha). I’m the one who took the hit first. I told LT and Calvin... but I’m painted as an ass----. I ain’t never been an ass----. You can’t paint me as the bad guy.”
Scott’s frustrations during the season were palpable as his snaps decreased. According to Pro Football Focus, Scott played 64% of the defensive snaps last season, a 30% reduction from his first year with the Jets in 2009. He was taken off the field due to his inability to consistently cover tight ends or running backs in space. Scott allowed his disappointment to bubble to the surface.
“Last year, the attitude was bad,” Pettine said. “A lot of things factored into it. Bart’s a prideful guy. He’s a competitor. He wants to be out there. There were too many mistakes. Whether it was a mental mistake or a physical mistake, there were too many.
“Bart will be the first one to admit that his play fell off some last year,” Pettine added. “We talked about it. We discussed it as a staff. If he’s not playing well enough to be out there, he’s not going to be out there.”
Scott met with Ryan and linebackers coach Bob Sutton in the spring to discuss how he could become an integral part of the defense again in an increasingly pass-first league.
“We addressed what we felt were things I should and could improve on,” Scott said. “I took them to heart and went and worked on them. . . . I wasn’t in the playoffs. My body had time to heal. And I had time to work on my game.”
It began with losing weight and spilled onto the practice field.
“He’s moving quicker,” Ryan said. “I love the way he’s communicating. He’s always talking.”
Pettine maintained that Scott will “absolutely” be on the field on some passing situations, but it’s unclear exactly how many more snaps he will get this year. The Jets will have plenty of “job sharing” at the linebacker spot, Pettine said. Gang Green will also have a number of three-safety packages.
Scott’s role each week will be matchup-driven, Pettine said. He played only about a third of the snaps in two games against the Patriots’ fast-paced, spread offense last season.
“When we’re playing teams that are up tempo, especially early in the year, it’s tough to have a guy like that out there every snap,” Pettine said. “I don’t think it’s in his best interest to be out there every snap, and I don’t think it’s in our interest to have him in every snap. “But against a running team like San Francisco, I don’t know if Bart comes off the field.”
Scott will be positioned in different spots on more packages.
“You have to have a little luck,” Scott said. “And you have to have opportunities.”
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