FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
As he walked off the field after the Jets' final collapse of the season in the sweltering heat and smothering despondency of the South Florida air that day, Bart Scott had the sense it would be his last day in a Jets uniform.
A face-to-face meeting with Rex Ryan a few weeks later only reinforced that unsettling feeling. Shortly after the conversation, the Jets told Scott he could look for a trade.
"It was a talk where we just went over where I was at in my career, my expectations of myself, and their expectations and figuring out what was best for everyone," Scott said. "If we had to walk away, we walk away."
It was a sobering moment for the player who had been the first major acquisition of the Rex Ryan era in 2009. Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine camped out in the front yard of Scott's home in Baltimore to convince him to join the Jets as a free agent that year. Scott was rewarded with a six-year, $48-million contract, and immediately began selling the system Ryan had taught him during their days together with the Ravens.
But after a disappointing 2011 season in which Scott gradually had been phased out of a large portion of the defensive scheme, there were soul-searching moments for both sides. Scott needed to be convinced that there was still a role for him with the Jets; the Jets needed to know if Scott was still good enough, and committed enough, to be asked back.
Scott said there were some serious trade talks that ensued, although he declined to name which teams had expressed interest in the 31-year-old linebacker. But in the end, the relationship continued, and both sides are happy.
Two important things have happened with Scott since the decision to stay together was made. First, he lost nearly 10 pounds in a bid to recapture his quickness that had suffered last season. And second, he decided to divest himself of the homes he'd bought elsewhere, a decision that has as much to do with a renewed sense of commitment as it did with his finances.
"This is my only home now, and there is where I'm going to live, regardless of football," he said. "I'm glad I'm here. I've bought in."
It remains to be seen whether Scott's level of play will improve to the point where he re-emerges as a significant contributor to a defense that had fallen off after two mostly dominant seasons. But Ryan already notices a difference in Scott, just from the few practices the Jets have had in their off-season training program.
"He's ready to be Bart Scott, the guy we brought in here," Ryan said. "Bart would tell you that he had kind of a disappointing year last year, just like I'll tell you I had a disappointing year. You see that energy now. I think he's the type of guy that has that personality that his teammates respond to. When Bart's up, the team's up. The fighting spirit that Bart has, I think you see it out there. He's a guy that's jumping out at me."
Scott agrees with his coach about last year. And about this year's sense of renewal. But he also confided that there was more to last year's drop-off than most knew about.
"It was frustrating because you really couldn't adjust on the fly because of the [lockout] shortened offseason. You didn't have the time. I came in assuming it was going to be one way, and then it changed."
Scott said he actually gained weight on purpose because he thought he'd be rushing the passer more, and bulked up to fend off the inside punishment he'd receive on his way to the quarterback. But he actually blitzed less, wasn't as effective in pass coverage, and eventually was removed altogether from several packages.
"Now I'm back to 239, where I always was in my career [until last year]," he said. "I put on the weight because I thought my role would be something else."
Now the plan is to convince his coaches that he should be on the field more this season. A lot more.
"[Last year] was a bump in the road," he said. "But coming where I came from as an undrafted free agent, I know how to work. I know how to adjust."
Yes, the fire is back after an offseason of soul-searching. For Scott and for his coaches. The mind-set appears more like that two-word phrase that embodied Scott's demeanor when the Jets got to the AFC Championship Game after a remarkable upset of the Patriots in the 2010 playoffs.