He calls himself a custodian. Why? He cleans up the trash and clears a way to the ball carrier allowing his teammates to make the tackle. The wgreat thing about Bart Scott is that he couldn’t care less about making the tackle. He feeds off of initiating contact and making life easier on his fellow defenders.
Unfortunately, as our Sam Monson pointed out in Bart Scott: The Art of Linebacking, Beyond the Tackle, he doesn’t get the respect his play warrants. While he doesn’t lead the team in tackles, he’s an integral part of the Jets defensive success and one of the main reasons why it’s been ranked in our Top 5 twice in the past three seasons.
After all, as Bart says … tackles aren’t the hardest thing in the world.
I spent some time with him talking about his role in Rex’s defense, his path from an undrafted free agent to Pro Bowler, Mark Sanchez, and what he thinks about the lack of respect he gets from the masses.
Steve Wyremski (SW): How’s everything going? How’s the offseason?
Bart Scott (BS): I can’t complain. I added eight pounds of muscle because I’ve had the time to build it the right way [this year] as opposed to having five weeks to lift weights through the offseason program. What happens is that as soon as you get it right, start seeing growth, and really start making strides you go to a minicamp [in a typical season]. Then, football takes precedence and not you’re working out and getting in better shape, so you lose what you’ve been working for. It’s basically a month of minicamps and OTAs that you’re not lifting weights at the rate you were when the offseason first started. Now what’s been happening is you listen to guys like Haloti Ngata and he’s lighter and stronger.
When you train with someone for three months that you’re paying, you get to work on what you need to work on. So, we were really able to work on things that were specific to me and not things that were specific to a workout program. In OTAs and things like that, you get burnt out mentally. Coaches are going to demand more of your time. You’re over there pretty much all day. They’re meeting you and they want you to do football school and things like that, which is great for the mind but not so great for the body. We’ve been able to train like the Combine. You see how guys get faster, bigger, and stronger at the Combine for that one test. Well, for us … our test is the season. That’s why I say [the lockout] may be beneficial for a veteran and not so much the young guys. [Younger guys] come in strong, but they can’t use the strength because mentally they can’t play fast.
SW: So you’re now in better shape because of the time you’ve had to focus with your private trainer? Would you say you’re in better shape than in the past?
BS: I know I am. In Baltimore, this is how we trained. The veterans only came to the mandatory OTAs. Ray Lewis trained in Florida, Todd Heap in Arizona, and Ed Reed trained in Miami [for example]. This is really more normal to me than what I’ve been doing for the past two years. I’ve had my trainer for the last eight years. That’s how I was able to make the jump from an undrafted free agent to where I am today. I worked on things that made me better and not so much what makes people better.
SW: You talk about going from an undrafted free agent to now and you seem to credit that to your training and private trainer. You really didn’t get your shot until 2005. Coincidentally, that was also Rex Ryan’s first season as defensive coordinator for the Ravens. In addition to your private trainer, did Rex have a lot to do with you getting your shot in ’05?
BS: Well, I think he was a bigger fan of me than Mike Nolan. I always was opinionated and I was always a player that talked. It was like the inner city for me. That’s how we do it where I’m from in Detroit. You go to peewee games or high school games and guys are talking trash to each other. That’s just how we play. Everybody’s not a fan of that. Some people are more traditional in how their players go about their approach. Sometimes people see and hear it as white noise.
Rex has the same personality that I have. He likes that I’m willing to put myself out there and force myself to back it up. That’s what it is. The talk forces you to back it up. Not only is someone going to try and come after you harder, but they’re going to look forward to telling you and everybody about it. It raises your opponent’s level, but your level too. For me, if I’m at my best … my best is better than your best.
SW: Is that why you have such an allegiance to Rex? Because you guys have a similar personality and because he gave you that shot back in ’05?
BS: I’m basically him in a football uniform. If he was a player, he would take every play personal, take people trying to block him personal, get in fights, get in scuffles, and be super aggressive. He’s aggressive by nature. He’s an aggressive coordinator. When he was chosen to be the defensive coordinator [in Baltimore], it matched up with me.
SW: You mentioned that you were from the inner city of Detroit and you went from an undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois to starter. When you began in the NFL, you played primarily on special teams. Back in 2007, you had an interview with Tim Layden for Sports Illustrated after your Pro Bowl season and you said, “you were a man playing with the house’s money and that’s a dangerous man.” Can you explain a little bit on what you meant by that?
BS: What I’m saying is, if I could have written my script to how I would have liked my career to come out … yeah it would have happened a couple of years earlier, but I think I’ve achieved the goals I expected and far exceeded what people thought of who I was and what I was capable of. Now, I have nothing to fear. I don’t have to play timid. I believe in me.
I always had tremendous confidence. People saw me as a special teams player [and] a guy who couldn’t put it together and be consistent. You can’t just show spurts of being great in the NFL and just show a couple of plays of being great and one play that costs you the game. They expect you to be a pro and that’s what I had to work on, learn how to study and learn how to master my craft. Now, I feel like I’m playing for me. Nobody expected anything from me at all. I have tremendous self-confidence.
When you talk trash, the good thing is that you have a chance to prove it. I got my opportunity and I think I earned the respect. I’ve never played for money or played for Pro Bowls. I think if you talk to any of my teammates or any guy that played next to me (Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, David Harris), they’d probably say that I’m the most unselfish football player they’ve ever played with. I volunteer – I volunteer to do the dirty work because I’m good at it. I can do the other work too. I can be the cleanup man, but I thrive and love showing my team that I will sacrifice for them. I know when it comes time for them to sacrifice for me they’ll do it wholeheartedly. I don’t mind taking two guys on so another guy can make a tackle. No one in the stands knows that I’m the one who helped the play, or basically made the play and made it easy for them. As long as he knows. As long as the guy next to me says, “Man, I’m a better player because he’s around. He makes things a lot easier for me.”
SW: That’s a perfect segue into the PFF article that Sam Monson wrote back a few weeks ago on you called Bart Scott: The Art of Linebacking, Beyond the Tackle, which is exactly what you’re talking about. What did you think of the article when you saw it?
BS: At first, I thought they didn’t read Football for Dummies. They actually comprehend [and] understand the game. They understand what goes into making a play successful. Unfortunately, fans and people who watch football are trained to follow the football, so they don’t know what goes into a play. When I watch football, I watch the play. I watch what made the play successful. I don’t simply watch the football. When I saw it, I thought … somebody got it.
It’s the same thing as the lineman with the pulling guard that allows the running back to run through. Everybody see the running back, but nobody knows that the lineman may be executing or playing at a higher level than the running back. Look at a guy like Nick Mangold and the job that he does and how good he is at his job. I think I’m pretty good at my job and what I’m asked to do. I excel at it.
I’m 100% confident that if I were put in another role, I could lead the league in tackles. It’s not the hardest thing in the world. That’s the most overblown statistic in the world. Who cares if you lead the league in tackles and you’re defense is 25th, 26th or 30th in the league. Anybody can get f***** tackles. Making a tackle 5 – 10 yards down the field … that’s bulls***. That means somebody blew and assignment and somebody got by. When you’re a well-oiled machine it works like clockwork, but it takes everybody doing their job. Everybody knows what plays we’re going to run, it’s who can execute the best.
I take pride in and I don’t think it’s a coincidence, and yeah I know Rex is a part of it, but I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a defense that finished out of the Top 10. Maybe once in 10 years. It damn sure wasn’t lower than 15th. I’ve been No. 1 in this league at least three times. Since I’ve been in NY, a team that didn’t hover in the rankings defensively, if you average my first two years I’m at a two (first in the league and third in the league). People can say what they want, that’s not with a line of Pro Bowlers. People say, yeah he played with Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, or Ed Reed. You’ve got to think that they’ve benefited from playing with me, as well. Like I didn’t go in there and take two guys and cave in the tackle or the guard and underhook’em so Suggs could come around or other guys could come around. I love doing those types of things for my teammates.
SW: Is that just a matter of your playing style or is that dictating by the defensive scheme in NY and Baltimore?
BS: Well, the scheme is that I’m generally always to the bubble. Meaning that I’m always the guy that has the uncovered lineman looking me square in the face with no resistance in front of him. A lot of times, in certain fronts they have guys you need to go through to get to them. I’m easy access. I don’t mind that because I don’t mind the contact.
I don’t run away or shy from contact. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tight end, fullback, or a guard. Center or tackle, I’ll deal with you. Sometimes you get me and sometimes I get you. I’m not a guy that you can breakdown. You’re not going to hit me and I’m going to say, “Oh, I want no part of that.” I’m going to say, “You know what … this guy is going to have to bring it again and again.” That’s where I see what kind of player you are. That’s an opportunity to see what kind of man you are. There are certain guys I respect because they continue to bring it. My whole philosophy is it’s going to hurt you and it’s going to hurt me and I’m willing to hurt longer and harder than you are. So when it’s that 4th quarter or some critical time in the game and you decide to not come at the same speed you went because maybe you’re a little dizzy, you’re a little mildly concussed like I am, I’m going to come even worse and dare you to continue it all day.
SW: Who’s one of those guys you say you respect because they continue to bring it after you’ve had some major collisions throughout the course of the game?
BS: The biggest battle that I’ve had, and he’s not a guy that people know a lot about but he’s from the division I played with, is Lee Vickers. Me and Lee Vickers had some tremendous battles. I’ve knocked him unconscious. He almost knocked me unconscious last year. I forgot all the stuff I did to him in Cleveland and he remembered. The last time, I won. I hadn’t played Cleveland in two years and he remembered the battles we had and the things I’d done to him. He caught me right in the ear hole. I swear my lights went out and came back on real quick. I take pride in when I got got, I decided to stand back up and say, “You gotta bring a lot more. Good job, son. Excellent job, but let’s do it again.”
SW: Not only do you blow up plays taking on some of these guys, but you also beat blockers at or around the line of scrimmage. Not a lot of linebackers are able to do that. Take me through how do you’re able to accomplish that.
BS: The game is about leverage. I know a lot of lineman can’t get their body or their shoulders square to me, so I win. It’s only when they have their shoulders square to me where they have their power. So, I know about leverage and I know I’m coming at a speed and so tight that they have to be perfect. You force them to be perfect. You force them to turn the corner tight. If you make a wide turn on me and I make a sharp turn on you, I’m going to get inside that shoulder, knock you off balance, and you’re going to pay the price and be one of those guys that look at film.
I’ll tell anybody that if they want to see a play that defines me, watch the first preseason game I ever played in a Jets uniform. The very first play. It’s against [Jacob] Bell. He pulls, I hit him, he had a concussion, and he walked around with sunglasses for two months. The thing is, it was the second time I did it to him. I did it to him when he was in Tennessee, I believe. He didn’t play until the 2nd game of the regular season. He missed all of preseason and the first game of the regular season. I put him up almost five weeks. That’s me. I’m not a big dude, but I can give two flying f**** about who you are, what your resume is, or who you believe you are. If you are the best in the league, you’ve got to prove that to me that day.
SW: We ranked you as our No. 3 ILB in the NFL last year. As you saw in our article, we think you’re a top linebacker in this league. However, you look at ESPN, they put out their top 10 linebacker rankings in April and you weren’t on that Top 10 list and you didn’t get a vote from the participants. Why don’t you think you get the credit we think you deserve and I know you think you deserve? There are guys like Urlacher, Ray Lewis, and Jerod Mayo on that list.
BS: A lot of those are lifetime achievement rankings over a body of work [and] are guys who have tremendous name recognition. A lot of those guys don’t even have to take one snap and they’re going to get voted for the Pro Bowl no matter what. Even with the Pro Bowl, unless you play against a guy you really don’t know what he does. If you don’t play against a guy and you have to vote for the Pro Bowl, who are you going to vote for? You’re going to vote for who you know. It’s very hard unless a guy does something on a national stage like an interception to the house on Monday Night Football for a young guy who hasn’t made a Pro Bowl to make one. Yao Ming didn’t even play last year and he was one of the top voted for the NBA All Star Game.
SW: You haven’t been back to the Pro Bowl in a number of years and your defenses continue to be dominant. Is that something you even care about at this point?
BS: Who cares. Did we win the game? Are we in the Super Bowl? Did we get a title? I don’t care about that stuff. I couldn’t care less. That’s not what it’s about for me. If that were the case, when I came [to NY] in the free agent signing I would have made sure I get all the top blitzes and bi*** and moan about it. Rex, whatever you need me to do … let’s do it. I trust him that if this is for the better of the team and this is going to make us win, I don’t give a flying f*** if I get no tackles, but I’ll [blow-up] this fullback every time for my linebacker to get one. I couldn’t care less.
SW: Your play against the run last year was just plain nasty, whether you’re blowing up a guy or beating him off the edge. We rated you +27.5 against the run, which ranked No. 1 among inside linebackers with the closest guy being Lawrence Timmons of the Steelers at +20.1. You’re seven points above the closest guy and were clearly dominant. Do you feel you’re a better player against the run than the pass?
BS: Well, I think I’ve had more practice at that. Earlier in my career, I just lined up and took tight ends because of my safety work in college for two years. I don’t really leave the field in passing situations, but when I was in Baltimore we had tremendous athletes like Adalius Thomas that would take a TE, so it gave us more flexibility. Adalius could take a TE and both of our safeties could take a TE and that allowed us to have more variety in what we were doing.
You see guys like Drew Coleman who led our team in sacks [in 2010 for the Jets]. Those were opportunities that I would get [in Baltimore] because of the other players that we had. Adalius could run with anybody. He was a 4.5 [40-time] guy and a super athlete. He allowed me to be free a lot. He allowed me to attack, so I blitzed a lot more. Here, I do a lot more coverage. If you cover somebody and they don’t catch the ball, do people really know you did a good job covering your guy? They don’t pay attention. It’s definitely something I continue to get better at. I’ll tell you, what I really got rusty at is blitzes because I didn’t blitz as much in the last two years. When I did blitz, I hadn’t had practice because I didn’t have it in games or practice. So, you get rusty with your technique. I got sloppy and that was something I had to clean up.
SW: [Explain PFF]. Looking at your game-by-game breakdown from 2010, we rated your Week 1 against the Ravens as your top game of the year. You had six tackles, five stops, and two hits on the QB. Do you agree with that and why?
BS: I do agree with that because that was my type of game. I love those types of games. I had extra incentive because it was a rivalry game and I was familiar with the guys. The style of their play and the style of my play matched up well for a great game. I knew those guys like the back of my hand and we had a tremendous game plan like we always do, but the game plan involved me a little bit more.
SW: You’ve played with Rex as your defensive coordinator or head coach six of the nine years in your career. You clearly have a lot of respect for him putting him in the same sentence as Genghis Khan and Hannibal back in January. You’re always saying that you’ll go to war with him any time. Why such loyalty to Rex?
BS: Because he has the same exact loyalty to you. He had an opportunity to bring a lot of guys here and the loyalty is not just to me. The loyalty was to Howard Green, Marques Douglas, and guys he continues to bring. You know how Bill Belichick had his guys in Bryan Cox and guys that always traveled around with him. If you’re one of Rex’s guys, you’re one of his guys. He doesn’t give a s*** about what anybody else thinks. You’re his guy. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. All you have to do is make sure you’re getting it done for him.
I’m sure you guys are into the news and heard what Ed Reed said a couple of weeks ago about how disappointed he was and about how he wanted Rex to get the head job in Baltimore. No disrespect to John Harbaugh, but just how much he respected Rex, as well. It’s not just me. It’s anybody you talk to about the man. In life, you’re afforded a couple of special people. Not special coaches. You’re afforded special people. He’s a special person. When you find that special person, you know. Not only do I recognize it, but everybody to ever play for him recognizes it. It had nothing to do with him being a head coach or a coordinator. The same respect was given to him when he was a D-line coach. You know when people have the “it” factor? You know when somebody’s special.
SW: You’ve played with Rex for a long time, so I figure you’d be the best person to answer this. With all the Super Bowl talk all last season, the Super Bowl talk in the playoffs in the ’09 season, and now this offseason … does it ever become a boy who cried wolf thing with Rex talking like this?
BS: No, not at all. People don’t understand. A lot of time he makes those statements to take the pressure off a young quarterback or take pressure off a young running back. When you’re so worried about him, you’re not thinking about what Mark Sanchez is doing, what Joe McKnight is doing, or what Kyle Wilson is doing. There’s no pressure on them because nobody because no one is focusing on what’s going on with them. It allows them to mature and continue to grow without having to listen to criticism. If they can’t talk about Rex saying something bold, when it comes to NY Jets what are they going to talk about? There’s always a method to the madness. Sanchez doesn’t have to deal with some of those comments that are coming up about [Joe] Flacco. That allows Mark to continue to get better. That allows me to get better. That allows Shonn Greene to get better. Kyle Wilson to get better, who didn’t play a lot. Working his butt off. He can just play.
SW: Being from NY, it’s great seeing the attitude that’s come with Rex, the team has, and you brought here. Fans around the country now hate Jets’ fans, hate the Jets, and hate everything about them.
BS: Yeah, well, at least they’re something. Before that, you didn’t even see the Jets on ESPN. Nobody was talking about them. You didn’t know what the Jets were. No matter what you say, the Jets are something. “The Jets are some cocky little ***holes, I hate them.” Ok, that’s fine. At least you’re talking about them.
SW: Sticking on that, the Jets historically had this stigma of a losing franchise. One of Rex’s big things when he came in to NY was changing the mentality of the franchise. As you’re well aware, you were a big part of that and why Rex pulled to have you sign in NY. After two years with the team, do you think the losing mentality has changed at this point with two trips to the AFC Championship?
BS: Of course because when the s*** hit the fan, you watch guys that can’t close, or team’s that didn’t know how to finish when the s*** hit the fan. Now that we’ve been able to have those experiences together, instead of thinking, “Oh, I hope we don’t lose to the Lions or Cleveland,” it’s “We’re doing to find a way to win … I don’t care what we gotta do. We’re going to win this.” Guys can believe it. People thought he was crazy the first year when we went to the playoffs and Rex said we were a dangerous team. One bad half and the nickel from pulling his groin from beating Peyton Manning and going to the Super Bowl. It’s only going to get better.
Every day you wake up, you have an opportunity to decide who you want to be and what you want to do in life. Every day. If you want to be a winner, you wake up with a winner’s attitude. You prepare like a winner. You talk like a winner. You don’t creep up on greatness. You don’t creep up on the Super Bowl. You believe it, you talk about it, you put it in the atmosphere, and you go get it. It takes a lot of balls. A lot of people are waiting for us to put our foot in our mouth, so they can say, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” How many other teams (other than four or five) wouldn’t have had a complete collapse under all the pressure, scrutiny, the scandals? Hard Knocks and saying Super Bowl with teams giving their best to shut our mouth? They couldn’t do it.
We didn’t get where we wanted to get, but we’ve got a lot of stuff to be proud of and a lot of stuff to build on. Same old Jets my a**. You’re right the same old Jets. Going along, balling out in the playoffs, and having an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl, or get to the Super Bowl every year. That’s how we roll now. That’s the Jets’ way. Show up to work and know every offseason with Woody Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum, and Rex Ryan that you got an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl. Some teams they show up, get put together, and they don’t have a chance in hell. They know they don’t even got a chance in hell. They come in there to collect a check and come December 25th, they play their last two games, collect their belongings after the [regular] season.
SW: I want to talk about Sanchez. In his first two seasons, he performed reasonably well leading the offense to the two AFC Championships as we talked about. He played solid in the playoffs both years. He still gets a ton of grief from most saying that it’s all the running game carrying him, it’s the defense carrying him … what are your feelings on that?
BS: You’re damn straight. That’s what teammates do. They carry each other. How many yards did Ben Roethlisberger throw for in his first Super Bowl? Exactly. What was his quarterback rating? What matters? They won the game. Everyone wants to talk about Mark Sanchez, “If Peyton Manning were with that team or Drew Brees …” People don’t remember that Brees got thrown out of town and he didn’t start with his breakout season until Philip Rivers was drafted. They drafted Philip Rivers for a reason. It wasn’t because they were ecstatic about Drew Brees and thinking he was the answer. He stepped his game up when Philip Rivers got there and performed outstanding, and is now one of the better QBs in the NFL. How many years did that take?
I hope you’re smarter than you were in high school. It takes time to mature, develop, and get experience. The only way you get that experience is by playing. Peyton Manning didn’t light it up his first year the last time I checked. I still think they’re trying to find the balls that hit the defensive players.
SW: What do you think he needs to do to get out from under that hate cloud?
BS: As long as we’re out there like that and we lose, he’s going to get the brunt of it. It comes with the territory. He has wide shoulders. He understands the market we live in. Everything we do is scrutinized. Look at Eli Manning. He’s a Super Bowl Champion and they try to throw his a** out of town every other week. You’ve got to have big shoulders. That’s why not everybody can play in this market.
I think he’s going to be a tremendous QB and he’s going to continue to learn the game, learn from experience, and get chemistry being in the same system with the same players with a young nucleus of D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight, Dustin Keller, and Nick Mangold to continue to grow with. He ain’t doing too bad to throw two AFC Championships on is resume. I bet Tony Gonzalez is still wishing he could have one of those playoff wins.
SW: Can you talk a little bit about one of Rex’s favorite guys who was undrafted, linebacker Jamaal Westerman out of Rutgers. Rex always has great things to say about Jamaal. He’s coming from a similar situation that you came from being undrafted.
BS: When I say guys who benefited from the offseason program and being with trainers, Jamaal is ready and he’s focused. I think he took a lot of notes that they didn’t draft an outside pass rusher. He knew that that means they believe in him. Sometimes all it takes is a player to know they believe in him. I think he took a step backward last year because Jason Taylor was added to the roster and knowing that he wasn’t going to be called on. A lot of times, you’re not called on and you prepare like you’re not going to be called on.
Especially with a player who had some success his first year, it hurts to take two steps forward and one back. Now he understands what’s important to be a professional. Same thing I had to deal with – learn to be more consistent. He’s had flashes of greatness and showed how explosive he is getting off the ball, but then he would have a mental lapse. That’s all about learning and being comfortable.
What happens is that you’re 2nd year, you think you know, but you forget that you don’t know s***. You have to prepare the same way. You’ve heard it, you’ve seen it, and you get comfortable. You’re always on the edge as a rookie because you think you might get cut, especially when you’re an undrafted free agent. Now he knows what’s expected of him in his 3rd year in the league.
SW: In the NFL draft in April, defense was clearly a focus for the Jets. What’d you think of the Jets first two picks in the draft addressing the D-Line?
BS: I’m excited. Let me tell you a secret. We got four players I want you to pay attention to. Jeff Cumberland: TE that no one knows about. I think he can be one of the best TEs this year or next year in the NFL.
SW: Why is that? I know he’s a good pass-catching guy.
BS: This dude is 260 lbs, runs a 4.40, and I’ve seen this guy touch the top of the ceiling in the locker room.
SW: Alright, that’s one guy.
BS: That’s one. Ropati [Pitoitua]: the guy that Jenkins took off in Hard Knocks. Six foot nine, 315 lbs. He’s learning how to play low and is ready for a breakout season. Tremendous talent. Can’t wait to see him. I’m excited because we were super thin at D-line last year and now you add youth and size and the guys that played great last year [Mike] Devito and [Sione] Pouha get an opportunity to be in a rotation and stay fresh.
SW: You just used your coined phrase [Can’t Wait]. Do you have to pay yourself royalties?
BS: Yeah, I gotta pay myself 10 cents.
SW: Ok, that’s two guys.
BS: Joe McKnight is ready to come out to. I know we drafted a guy from Louisville that’s going to be great for us too, but Joe McKnight is ready to go. It took him a while to learn how to be a pro. Vlad Ducasse is ripped up right now. I’ve watched Vlad on the inclines with almost 400 lbs and he’s worked off all that baby fat. All gone. He’s working ridiculous. He’s lean. He’s 345 lbs. If I can say a lean 345, he’s a lean 345.
You can certainly see and feel why Rex Ryan made a point of brining Bart to the Jets back in 2009 as part of his overhaul of the franchise. His aggressive, unselfish, bold, vocal, and above all his top priority is winning. You can’t ask for more.