The narratives about the rise and fall of Reggie Bush have long been written. He was supposed to be the next Barry Sanders, an electric and explosive ball-carrier who could do anything at any time he wanted to. Any time he touched the ball with running room, he was a threat to take it to the house. Coming into a league transitioning to more “satellite” players, he was the ultimate satellite.
And then he wasn’t.
Bush has dealt with injuries, misuse, and disappointment over the course of his seven-year career. As a consequence, he’s failed to live up to the billing that came with being the No. 2 overall selection in the 2006 NFL Draft. Despite that, he’s had some highlights in his career that were reminiscent of his USC days, and now he has another chance to have more of them with the Detroit Lions.
The Lions come off a regular season in which they averaged 4.1 yards per carry as a team, ranking 19th in the NFL. This is a problem. Why? Because they have a strong passing game that does a fairly good job of spreading out the field and creating running space for ball-carriers. Clearly the ball-carriers (and their blockers) failed to take advantage of it last season, but there’s a strong chance that Bush won’t.
Bush comes to a scheme that plays to his strengths of going downhill and getting into space where he can make defenders miss. He does both well (unless it’s a stretch play call) and has proven in the past that he can do a lot of damage when given an alley to run through.
Although his dynamic running style will be an asset to the Lions, it’s possible that it takes a backseat to his pass-catching ability, which the team needs as it looks to find an athlete that can take advantage of the unclaimed real estate provided by wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
There was a time when Bush caught at least 52 passes in three straight years, all of which came in his first three years in the show. He was used exquisitely by New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton during those three years, a time when he blew by linebackers with relative ease and sprinted across the field to pick up dozens of yards at a time. He’s no longer as explosive as he was then, but Bush can still offer quality route-running and lateral quickness as a satellite player.
Here’s one example. It was Week 17 and the Miami Dolphins, Bush’s previous team, were playing the rival New England Patriots. Backed up in their own territory, the Dolphins came out in a Trips Left (three threats to the left) formation, and Bush is offset to quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s right.
With Bush lined up to the right, where there was only one other receiver, he was matched up one-on-one with a linebacker on a passing play. He was instructed to run an option route, a route that requires a brief stem and a reading of the defender’s leverage. If the linebacker slid inside, Bush went out and vice versa.
Once Bush cleared the trenches, he met Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo head on. Mayo didn’t flinch as Bush approached him, standing square and not giving the running back a clear way to go. That allowed Bush to decide whether he wanted to go inside or out, both areas that were open sesame.
Ultimately, Bush chose to run to his right, toward the sideline where he would have the opportunity to take advantage of the running room created by wide receiver Brian Hartline’s deep comeback route. He separated from Mayo once he started running laterally and pulled away to catch the ball for a 19-yard gain.
Bush’s ability to quickly gain nearly 20 yards on an option route is exactly what the Lions need. It provides them with another weapon quarterback Matthew Stafford can turn to when he needs to get rid of the ball quickly. Stafford has had issues in his young career with not checking the ball down enough, so Bush should help him become more active in that aspect of his game, especially if he reaches 80 receptions like head coach Jim Schwartz thinks he can.
Between helping the Lions offense run and pass the ball better, Bush has the chance to once again prove that he’s still capable of making the highlight-reel plays that he was once known for.