Bryan Scott remembers being a highly recruited high school player. Blessed with a chiseled frame and good measurables colleges from far and wide were selling him hard. Not many schools however, would commit to a position when asked by the 1998 Pennsylvania Big School Player of the Year. Scott rushed for 3,000 yards as a high school tailback, but he went on to play cornerback at Penn State.
Eight years into his pro career the change wasn't quite as dramatic, but going from strong safety to linebacker was a major adjustment when it came to run/pass keys and assignments.
Coming off a high ankle sprain in Week 10, Scott returned to the field in a completely new role. With Buffalo's linebacking corps decimated by injury with veterans Kawika Mitchell and Keith Ellison both on injured reserve, Scott was asked to step in immediately.
There have been some bumps in the road, but now with a month invested in the position the reads and responsibilities are coming quicker.
"I think he's played well in his role," said interim head coach Perry Fewell. "He's a big safety and a small linebacker. Bryan is really stepping up to the plate for us. It's not the role he envisioned for himself at the beginning of the season, but it shows you how unselfish he is."
"I'm more comfortable at the position now," said Scott.
Evidence of that came in last Sunday's win over Kansas City when he had a team-high 10 tackles, including two for loss, a third down sack to force a punt and a quarterback hit. He also made a key play with under three minutes to play and the Chiefs threatening to take the lead, tipping a Matt Cassel pass that was ultimately intercepted by Jairus Byrd at the Bills five-yard line.
"I was just reading Matt Cassel and reading his eyes and he pump faked a little bit and I think if he didn't pump fake I might have been able to pick that off," Scott said. "But because I was leaning a little bit I was only able to pop it up, but with Byrd back there that's all you need to do and he'll get it."
While adjusting to the different angles and bigger men Scott has had to grapple with in the run game, the safety turned linebacker has fared well in pass defense.
"I have a lot of confidence in Bryan in zone or man," said Fewell. "The last few weeks he's taken on some nice matchups with Jones-Drew in Jacksonville. He had to man up on (Jamaal) Charles a few times against the Chiefs and so in zone or man I have a lot of confidence in Bryan Scott."
Charles in the times Scott had him as a coverage assignment last week had two receptions for just 13 yards. Scott has covered backs before as a safety on occasion, but he's doing it more as a linebacker.
"It's been fine," he said. "I think it's kind of fun because if the back stays in to block you can pressure rush. I haven't had any problems."
The only game where Scott struggled a bit in his new role was against the Jets in Toronto when not many of Buffalo's defenders executed or tackled well. But consistency is what he strives for every series knowing his movements and sight lines are all different at linebacker.
"As a safety you're often coming down to your spot in a cover two shell and you see everything because it's in front of you," said Scott. "At linebacker you're up closer to the line make that run read and back up and sometimes you're not back far enough. But it has come along for me. It's been easier than I thought it would be, but at the same time it took some time to get used to a flat foot read and then say to yourself, 'Okay it's pass, hurry up and drop.'"
As a linebacker Scott is taking on far more offensive linemen in the run game than he did as a safety, and though shedding the bigger men can be a greater challenge he feels he's held up well physically.
What concerns Scott the most is how he's viewed positionally moving forward. With no clear certainty as to the future of Buffalo's coaching staff or his future as he's set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the hybrid defender openly wonders how pro personnel evaluators will view him.
"What's my true identity," Scott asked rhetorically. "I don't know. For now it's linebacker, but if I had to go back on the back end I feel I could go and play strong safety. I don't want to consider myself a journeyman because you need an identity in the league. It's funny I was recruited by colleges as an athlete. So I guess that's still the case, I'm an athlete that they can plug in where they need me."
And the league's free agent evaluators could very well be recruiting him in much the same way come the offseason. For now though Scott is focused on helping his team in their last three games despite playing a role he did not see coming even two months ago.
"I look at it as just being blessed to get out there and make plays with my teammates," he said. "It's cool. That's my personality. I've always been a team guy. I'm not a selfish person at all. If they ask me to play nose I'll put my hand down and do my best. I'm just taking it in stride and having fun."