Darnay Scott is back from the dead. He has been unleashed from Bruce Coslet's doghouse and is rapidly regaining a place in the Cincinnati Bengals' plans.
Amazingly graceful and appallingly erratic, Scott once was lost, but now is found. If recent returns are any indication, he may be worth the wait.
Near the end of a season spent largely in shadow, Scott has recently seized a spotlight in the Bengals' burgeoning offense. He caught four passes for 112 yards in Sunday's 31-24 conquest of the Dallas Cowboys - his most productive pass receiving performance in 27 months - and re-established himself as a receiver to be reckoned with.
''I'm comfortable now,'' Scott explained. ''I dropped the ball one or two times too many last year, and the beginning of this year, and there were times when balls didn't come to me. I never doubted myself, but this feels good.''
Thrust into spotlight
Carl Pickens' prolonged absence has provided Scott an opportunity, a spotlight and a powerful forum as he approaches free agency. And though his hands remain uncertain, there are still wings on his heels.
''I honestly believe if Darnay applies himself and believes in what he can do and practices hard every day, that he could do some special things,'' Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason said Sunday.
''There are times when he loses concentration and drops some very catchable balls. But I told him, 'I have no other choice. I've got to throw it to you. Whether you like it or not, it's coming.' ''
Like a lot of players accustomed to subordinate roles, Darnay Scott has sometimes lacked for motivation and - or attention. Barely a month ago, he was left out of the Bengals' starting lineup against Indianapolis, and appeared destined to finish his days in Cincinnati as a chronic underachiever.
But two unforeseen events - Esiason's ascendancy and Pickens' pulled groin - have altered the spin on Scott's football future. Suddenly, he seems indispensable, and the idea that he may again be paired with Pickens is newly intriguing.
Scott has caught 21 passes in Esiason's four starts for 339 yards and three touchdowns. Sunday's outburst marked the first time in franchise history that the Bengals had surpassed 30 points in four straight games.
''With Carl (Pickens),'' Esiason mused, ''maybe we put up 50.''
It is dangerous to attach too much meaning to December games between non-contenders, but the Bengals have no choice but to draw some conclusions soon. If they do not re-sign Darnay Scott, they would probably be obliged to spend a high draft choice on a replacement. With so many other positions in need of help, Mike Brown can ill-afford to lose productive pass receivers already on his payroll.
Unlike Dan Wilkinson, who preceded him in the 1994 draft, Scott says he loves Cincinnati and would prefer to stay. He regards Pickens as a ''big brother,'' and says he has no desire to make new friends somewhere else.
''This (Cincinnati) is my No. 1 thing,'' he said. ''I want to come back here. If everything goes right, I will be back here.'' Credit Esiason for making Scott feel wanted. Credit Pickens for making him feel needed.
''Pick told me to step it up,'' Scott said. ''The day after he got hurt, he told me, 'I'm down for the rest of the year, so you've got to pick yourself up. This is your time to shine.' ''
Sunday, Pickens told Scott that if he should score against the Cowboys, he had to perform Pickens' ''Dog Tail'' end zone dance. With 25 seconds left in the first half, Scott scorched Cowboys cornerback Kevin Smith for a 48-yard touchdown.
Scott's touchdown broke a 10-10 tie and put the Bengals ahead permanently. His dancing was somewhat less memorable.
''It was a big-time day for me,'' Darnay Scott said. ''I dropped my first pass. I wasn't ready for it. But Dallas is America's Team. You've got to play well against them. Everybody's watching.''