Jonathan Scott can't let Big Ben get clocked

Pittsburgh's starting left tackle is one of the many little-known NFL players who have been put into the spotlight.

August 13, 2011|Sam Farmer
  • Tackle Jonathan Scott (79), formerly with the Buffalo Bills, has the tough task of protecting the blind side of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Tackle Jonathan Scott (79), formerly with the Buffalo Bills, has the tough… (Marc Serota / Getty Images )

As the starting left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jonathan Scott can say he has $102 million in his back pocket.

A few yards behind his back pocket, that is.

That's where Ben Roethlisberger drops back to pass, and Scott — who's on his third franchise in six seasons — is the blind-side protector for that $102-million quarterback.

Scott is one of several no-name players around the NFL who are stepping into high-pressure jobs.

From a linebacker in Denver, to a defensive tackle in Green Bay, to big blockers up front in Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, this is a season when some pivotal players can go from "Who's he?" to "Who's Who."

Start with Scott. He survived a massive cost-cutting purge by the Steelers, who started camp $10 million over the cap and needed to trim the fat. They restructured a slew of contracts, and got rid of some big-name players, among them tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams.

Scott signed a one-year deal and stuck around, giving him a touch of stability in a career that bounced him from Detroit to Buffalo to Pittsburgh.

It's not like he's coming in cold. First of all, he played under Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler with the Lions and Bills. And Scott started nine games for the Steelers last season, logging time at both tackle spots. He started on the left side in the Super Bowl, and, despite his share of rough patches last season, was generally on an upward trajectory.

Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh's top personnel man, said Scott gained a lot of confidence last season, "But he has to prove that he can go 16 games and be an efficient starter. Whether he will or not, we won't know until 16 games."

A good barometer of how Scott is doing will be Roethlisberger. If the quarterback is upright, that's a good thing. If he's corkscrewed into the turf, well …

Some other little-known players with a lot resting on their shoulder pads:

Rashad Johnson, safety, Arizona: Just last week Johnson overheard teammate and Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson say, "I wanted Rashad to take my job one day." No one could have guessed that would happen so soon. Now, Wilson is out with a torn biceps tendon and Johnson, a third-year pro who has never been tested as an every-down safety, is the man. Good thing for the Cardinals they have something of a soft start to the regular season, facing young quarterbacks in Carolina, Washington and Seattle.

Jah Reid, tackle, Baltimore: It looks like Reid, a third-round pick from Central Florida, will beat out Oniel Cousins for the Ravens' starting right tackle job. Reid surely will go through some growing pains, but he impressed Baltimore coaches right off the bat. He signed his contract on the second day of camp and spent the first half of that day running through a conditioning test. When he finished, he pulled on his uniform, ran onto the practice field and, without a hiccup of hesitation, stepped right into a spot along the No. 1 line.

Joe Mays, linebacker, Denver: You've got to hand it to Mays, who came to the Broncos last year in a trade with Philadelphia: He picks his friends well. During the lockout, he faithfully worked out with fellow Eagle-turned-Bronco Brian Dawkins, among the most respected players in football. Mays, a sixth-round pick from North Dakota State in 2008, clearly soaked in as much advice as he could. Now, he's the starting middle linebacker for a defense John Fox is transforming into a 4-3. His regular-season debut at that spot can't get much bigger: at home against Oakland on "Monday Night Football."

J'Marcus Webb, tackle, Chicago: Webb started 12 games for the Bears at right tackle. Now, he moves over to the left side, where line coach Mike Tice thinks he has the athletic ability to handle that premier job. That's quite a compliment, considering Webb was a seventh-round pick out of West Texas A&M. He's playing a pivotal role on a very young line that includes rookie Gabe Carimi at right tackle and third-year Lance Louis at right guard.

Mike Neal, defensive end, Green Bay: If the Packers don't miss Cullen Jenkins this season, they'll probably have Neal to thank. Green Bay is hoping to get some disruptive plays out of Neal, a year after he spent the bulk of his rookie season on injured reserve with a bum shoulder. Jenkins, the team's playmaker on the defensive line last season, is now with Philadelphia.

Ryan Harris, tackle, Philadelphia: Because Michael Vick is left-handed, the right tackle protects his blind side. That responsibility was supposed to go to Winston Justice, but he has been slow to recover from a knee injury. In desperation, the Eagles found Harris as a replacement. He showed a lot of promise in his first couple of years with Denver, but battled injuries and inconsistency the past two seasons. If the Eagles got the good Harris, they got a steal. If they got the bad one, there will be no hiding him in that spot.

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