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Return Fire

In football, the kick return represents a new beginning. The offense and their fans are able to wipe clean the mistakes of the past and look ahead to the current possession with hope and sometimes desperation.

Bengals rookie running back and kick-return candidate, Bernard Scott, knows a thing or two about new beginnings. Scott bounced around to different college teams, putting up monster numbers along the way. His former coaches and NFL scouts rave about his talent and abilities. He ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Draft Scouting Combine and can reportedly catch as well.

Scott fell all the way to the sixth round based mostly on a handful of legal run-ins—all of which have either been dismissed or are about to be expunged. Those who know him best are confident of him keeping his nose clean and the coaches don’t seem particularly concerned about it either. A bad reputation—perhaps unfairly blown out of proportion—has allowed a potential gem of a kick-returner to fall into the Bengals’ lap.

With 4.4 speed and reported attributes that include excellent balance, field vision and elusiveness, Scott may be too talented to limit to only special teams. After catching 85 passes for 1,254 yards and nine touchdowns during his last two seasons at Abilene Christian, Scott has the skill set that could be utilized well in the third-down back role, especially in third-and-long situations for dump-off passes and screen-plays. Anyway you split it, he’ll have to try his hand at anything the coaches throw at him, and the kick-return and/or punt-return duties seen to make the most immediate sense.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in my ability. I feel like I can help the running game,” Scott said in a interview. “And I think I can help on special teams, too. I feel like special teams is probably going to play a big role.”

Of course, no one in camp—with the exception of Carson Palmer—is just handed a role on the team without proving that he’s the most capable first. Scott is likely the underdog as the starting kick-returner behind promising receiver Andre Caldwell. Caldwell showed flashes in the return game late last season, highlighted by a 43-yard return against the Ravens. He seems sure-handed and when he sees a seam, he goes for it, displaying sneaky straight-line speed.

Another candidate is the bouncy DeDe Dorsey and his bacon-greased uniform. DeDe is so slippery that even the ball has a hard time staying put, resulting in the occasional fumble—the most unacceptable attribute for a kick-returner. Being small is tough on DeDe as he’s often dinged up, but smelling like bacon is harder as he is often chased home by packs of hungry dogs. It’s quite a gamble to appoint a guy like that to return kicks; he may not make it to work the next day.

A dangerous kick-returner has been sought after around these parts since Stanford Jennings once held the post in the days of yore. We’ve seen how an effective returner can add a bonus attribute to a team; Devon Hester, Josh Cribbs, Leon Washington and Darren Sprowles are guys who change games all by their little selves.

Tab Perry was consistent but not explosive. Glen Holt became essentially useless, forming a habit of running directly into tacklers. The Bengals must improve their special teams this season if they want even a sniff at the playoffs, and gaining an advantage on kick-returns would go a long way toward doing just that.

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