The Bengals made a somewhat surprising move on Friday to bolster their running back corps by bringing back free agent Bernard Scott. It was a surprise in the fact that we had barely heard a peep about the team's interest in Scott even after he visited the Raiders earlier in the week. On the other hand, if you look at the Bengals' 2013 free-agency strategy of retaining their key guys, Scott's return isn't all that surprising.
Scott had a rough 2012 season. After a hand injury wiped out his entire preseason and the first two games of the regular season, Scott played in only two other regular season games before he tore his ACL in an early October matchup against the Miami Dolphins. With only eight carries under his belt last season, his future was in doubt with the Bengals.
But, he returns and is excited about the prospects of what is ahead.
"I'm comfortable here. I'm happy here", Scott told Bengals.com editor, Geoff Hobson upon his return. "I know the system. I have a great relationship with a lot of my teammates and the coaches know what I can do. It's going to be easier than making a move."
Scott also said that his rehab process is "ahead of schedule" and that he isn't experiencing any setbacks, swelling and the like in the reconstructed knee, which is welcomed news and likely helped the Bengals make their decision to bring him back. Adrian Peterson came back from a similar catastrophic injury only to put up one of the most impressive seasons in NFL history. Scott tells Hobson that he is using Peterson as an example in his rehab and it's not a bad role model to choose.
Scott's NFL career path has been a different one. After multiple off-field incidents in college, Scott fell to the Bengals in round six of the 2009 draft. When you watched HBO's "Hard Knocks" documentary, you saw how much the Bengals liked Scott right away. He was penciled in as the backup to Cedric Benson almost immediately and had an impact as a rookie.
Used as a third-down back and kickoff returner, Scott had brief "wow" moments. One included a 119-yard effort in relief of an injured Benson against the Raiders, and another was the highlight -worthy kickoff return touchdown against the Steelers, helping the Bengals to a much-needed victory. He followed that up with a solid 2010 campaign, posting a 4.9 yards per carry average and 1,257 yards in kickoff returns. Then a change was made at offensive coordinator going into 2011 and things began to get strange for Scott.
Given his biggest role in the offense in his short career, Scott stumbled to a 3.4 yards per carry average, relinquished kickoff duties to Brandon Tate and had a paltry 2.9 yards per reception average, which was supposed to be his major influence on the offense that year. With that being said, Scott did have a career-high in touchdowns (3), and in first downs (21). An even bigger role was envisioned for Scott in 2012, but the injuries really hampered his career and the Bengals' plans.
Now he's back for 2013 and looks to have his work cut out to lock in a roster spot. The question remains as to what lies ahead for Scott. Is he an insurance policy and/or camp body, or are they heavily counting on him to contribute in 2013? We're not completely sure, but if we were to guess today, we would have to say that it's the former and not the latter. Because of his injury and recovery, as well as the team's desire to grab a quality rookie(s) this year, it appears that Scott has an uphill battle ahead of him.
He seems to realize it, too.
"I'm going to continue to work hard. I know camp doesn't start for three to four months, so I have to keep that in mind", Scott said. "That's going to be up to the coaches. I'm not going to worry about (the draft). They're going to play the best people and I'm going to fight and do what I have to do to be one of the best guys."
Scott's reunion with the Bengals should effect their draft strategy; to what extent remains to be seen. We still predict a scenario where the Bengals take a running back within the first few rounds even with Scott in the fold. With the plethora of talent in the draft at the position this year and their still glaring need, they pretty much have to make that selection. We can even see the team still taking another back late if that's the best player available. However, with Scott back, they may choose one of the bigger backs earlier and wait on a speedier guy. No one outside of the Bengals front office knows for sure.
It is important to realize that injuries are an unfortunate part of the game and that Scott himself is an example of such a harsh realization. Perhaps his role this year is going to be a reversal of his misfortune of last season, in that he will come in relief of an injured teammate. We never hope for injuries, but that's why football teams invest in insurance policies and contingency plans. We think that that is what Scott is for now--a contingency.