Reggie Bush, superfluous?

ReggieBushShutdown Corner wondered aloud recently whether Reggie Bush, whose role in the New Orleans Saints offense has rapidly diminished, hasn’t been relegated to just a peripheral role? Consider that Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas have carried the rushing load and that Drew Brees has a plethora of surehanded receivers. But I still like Bush as a valuable weapon — though in his newer, more limited role.

Although I think it’s quite possible that the Saints left several wins on the field the last few years by not going with a more trusty back between the tackles, I don’t think that devalues Bush, it just confirms what he is not: an every down back. Indeed, I look at him as basically the same as he was in high school: a wing-t wingback. That translates to the NFL as a third-down/scatback for spread sets and as a receiver, and as a slot receiver or otherwise split receiver who can motion into or out of the backfield. He is best used off misdirection as his impressive reverse and leap for a touchdown against the Dolphins showed, and as an outlet receiver. He runs fairly good option routes when covered in man-to-man by linebackers (though he gets too cute, as he does with so much else, by hopping around instead of just running a sound route), and he has averaged around ten touches a game. In his second year, by contrast, he averaged around 19 touches a game; in his first and third years he averaged closer to fifteen touches per game. I think ten is the more appropriate number. Most of the reduction has been in his rushing attempts, though his receptions has gone down too. Ultimately, I think they should continue using him as they are though maybe with a bit more motion and the like to get him favorable matchups, and this offseason he should really focus on becoming a better receiver and route runner.

The boys at the PFR Blog point out that players similar to Bush — good athletes, good receiving prowess, but little aptitude as every down, between the tackles runners — have switched to wide receiver and had success. (See also this post by Chase Stuart about Frank Gifford, Lenny Moore, Bobby Mitchell, and Charley Taylor: four of only a few players who have gone to the pro bowl as both runningbacks and wide receivers.) I agree with the sentiment if not the prescription. In modern football you don’t need to switch roles so dramatically, but the name of the modern game is versatility and “hybrid” guys give you that.

Ultimately, I think Bush’s future would be as (best case scenario) a cross between Marshall Faulk and an excellent slot receiver like Wes Welker or Brandon Stokely. Obviously Bush has more speed than all of those guys, but he hasn’t yet developed their awareness on the field. I know this sounds like the worst of all worlds but if you did it right Reggie Bush could play almost the whole game and simply move from halfback, to third-down back, to split receiver, to wing-back, all within Sean Payton’s versatile system. Now, the Saints have a lot of good players, but I’m not ready to relegate Bush to purely being an ornament. He’s just a different type of player. A big factor in his development, however, is likely whether he learns to embrace that more limited role.

  • Brad

    He’s a bust. Why can’t people just say it? He’s a multi-million dollar, rarely-used, backup player.

  • Oy vey…..

    and just how many NO games were watched to come to this conclusion?

    Wasn’t it his rookie year that his all-purpose yards and touches equalled that of Deuce McCallister.

    How about Brian Westbrook?

    Various elements to examine in this equation;
    1) Sean Payton’s offense…….typically there are 6-7 different players with receptions every Sunday. With that much distribution,

    a) Run game – Payton has put a premium of passing (screens, quick, 5, & 7 step)and it wasn’t until this year that they committed themselves to more run distribution (with PT & Bell).

    2) injuries….he’s missed significant time during the season for various injuries every season (it was that injury a season ago that ushered in the ‘miracle’ of PT) diminishing how much he can actually contribute (when he isn’t playing)

    3) Perception – he is seen as a ‘speed’ back and in the codified world of sports and sports writers…backs are only “speed backs” or “power backs” and this false dichotomy leads to misconceptions and superflous BS.

    4) Special Teams – he is an NFL specialist in his fourth season. The guy gets punt returns and kickoff returns (split with others) which, may hinder how much time he gets on offense (when you have Bell and Thomas and had McCallister). So if you can spot him, why wouldn’t you?

    5) Hype – Bush is / can be a victim of his own success. The all-everything stud of the NCAA has not had the same dominance in the NFL. This creates a rather significant let down. “let down” = perception of bust/ no production.

  • I find the reflection of a reflection within a mirror rather ironic(this is a blog commenting on a blog that is commenting on an online article).

    Shutdown Corner makes assertions and assumptions not supported in the Times article (even though the Times goes on to support the rationale behind Bush’s diminished role) further extrapolated here.

  • Scott

    Reggie Bush would be golden running the jet sweep in a Wildcat offense.

    Can you imagine Ronnie Brown as the wildcat QB for the Dolphins, with Ricky Williams as the tailback and Reggie Bush coming on the jet sweep.

    Wow!

  • CoachingHopeful

    I really wonder if the Saints have wanted to move Bush to WR full time, but he refuses for whatever reason. It would just make a lot of sense to let him spend most of his time in the slot. I’m sure that Sean Payton’s thought about this.

    The guy Reggie Bush most reminds me of is Eric Metcalf, the former undersized but lightening quick RB “bust” of the Cleveland Browns who went on to be a Pro-Bowl WR in the Atlanta Falcons’ Run and Shoot. I believe Mike Rozier also helped to somewhat salvage a “bust” career as an undersized NFL RB by moving to slot receiver in the Oilers’ old Run and Shoot, too.

    With Bush, I’d really like to see how he’d work as a down-the-field receiver who could catch deep and mid-range balls in addition to the underneath/outlet receiver stuff the always gets. It’s almost like they’re afraid to have him running anything besides “running back” routes. As Scott wrote above and this article hints at, he would be GREAT as a slot receiver who could also run jet sweeps, reverses, and maybe occasionally get the ball on a draw. Throw him some quick slants as well as some outs, digs, fades, and posts to him and it looks like he could really become a true big play threat in that offense.

  • I think most of all, his retardation in (true) “development” is that 1) he hasn’t HAD to be the ‘every-down-back’ (and with the dismantling of the CBA with 18 game regular season approaching – why would you?), and 2) he/they are still trying to capture his USC-day explosiveness.

    I remember explosively quick guys coming out of college (Faulk, McCallister, S.Alexander) who turned into powerful runners (though, Faulk is kind of an exception) because they put on so much weight (they didn’t come into the league as heavy runners). I think the fact that Bush hasn’t had to bulk up like those other runners will only help him in his future development.

    The back Bush should most emulate would be Marshall Faulk, and being a NOLA guy, I only hope there were some kind of osmosis / transference Faulk could impart how dangerous of a weapon he was with the Rams. The multitude of routes he would run out of the backfield in St.Louis (at the precision in which he ran those routes) was what made them so explosive.

    Addditionally, to have a guy that is such a tweener (receiver/back) offers you something special with which to stress personnel groupings against limited 53 man rosters. Do you bring in a LB or a safety with Bush (when Bell/Thomas are on the field)? Payton has been experimenting with these groupings since he came to NO and I’m not sure if he has fully tapped what all he can do with these guys.

    Finally (and maybe optimistically as a ‘fan’), look at Tiki Barber and what happened when the rookie Jeremy Shockey arrived ( I believe he upped the yd/carry average by 1-2 yards). Although, defensively what do you really do when you have a tweener like Shockey (TE/receiver) coupled with Bush (receiver/back) in the lineup at once?

  • stan

    When Bush was coming out of college, I said he would probably be no more valuable as a pro than Dante Hall. Hall was a small RB in college whose NFL role was to be an explosive returner and a backup wide receiver. I said then that Dante Hall wasn’t worth one of the top picks in the draft and neither was Bush.

    Has Bush been any more valuable to the Saints than Hall was to the Chiefs? Hall was a better punt returner and since Bush doesn’t run back kickoffs, he’s obviously better there, too. Bush provides more yardage from scrimmage, but Reggie doesn’t much value over a typical replacement level player. Hall made two pro bowls.

  • just for perspective….

    Dante Hall in 9 years (112 games) has the same RECEIVING yardage (1700) as Reggie Bush in 3 years (44 games). Thing is Bush has 8 rushing TDs to his 6. Then you have to factor in Bush’s RUSHING production in that same time, to the tune of 1700 yards and 15 TDs.

    So forgive me for thinking that your analogy is coming from left field.

  • CoachingHopeful

    If Bush would grow into a Marshall Faulk type of player, that would be a great match for his skills. As it is now, he’s more like Kevin Faulk. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not what the Saints (or anybody else) expected from him coming out of USC. He was supposed to combine the talent of Gayle Sayers with the skillset of Marshall Faulk.

    Brophy does make some good points about how Bush can contribute a lot to the team simply because of his versatility. I don’t know how good of a downhill between-the-tackles runner Bush can ever become, though, and that’s the name of the game in the NFL.

    Marshall Faulk wasn’t known for it, but being able to do that when he had to was another of those skills that helped make him such a valuable, dangerous RB. Bush can take a handoff and hit a hole, but he gets taken down with arm tackles way too much. I believe Faulk played most of his career at about 10-15 lbs heavier than Bush, though. And, as Brophy said, Faulk was a great route runner where Bush gets slooppy.

    Bush is still the same lightening fast RB he was in college. It’s just that he’s not light years ahead of defenders athletically anymore, which means those open field jukes and razor sharp cuts aren’t as easy. Young NFL backs inevitably wind up either becoming better downhill runners or their careers stall. Marshall Faulk did it quickly. Thomas Jones took a few years to do this but he finally made it. Lots of other backs don’t. It remains to be seen if Bush can.

    I think Bush may eventually wind up transitioning into a sort of Percy Harvin role: a WR who gets to run Jet sweeps and who occasionally lines up or motions into the backfield to run the ball. Brophy’s right that he is very versatile out there, but at this stage in his career, he’s more of an athletic jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none type who gets by more on all-world speed and quickness than professional-grade skills. I personally suspect that his touches may have even been artificially inflated thus far in his career because of all the hype surrounding him.

  • Johnny Rokkin

    While Reggie Bush has a world of talent and potential, it simply isn’t going to happen. At least not in New Orleans. I’m rooting for the guy, but to me, he is and will always be Reggie Bust. The Saints didn’t draft him second to get 1700 rushing yards 3.5 years into his career. They expected that the first year. Granted, Payton hasn’t used him properly, insisting that he run between the tackles when he isn’t cut out for that. Even the worst NFL defenders are light years better than the Fresno State hacks he got fat stats against in college. I venture to say that had Bust played in the SEC, he wouldn’t have had a sniff of a Heisman Trophy. But that really is for another blog.

    I believe that Payton either needs to use him more as a third down back or slot receiver or trade the kid. Maybe San Diego would like him since LT is at the end of his usefulness. Then Bust could be closer to Kim Kardashian and her goofy reality show. And therein lies some of his problem as well. He is a celebrity more than he is a football player. Do you think Mike Bell would ever appear on a reality show on the E! network? Of course, not. But who would you rather hand the ball to on third and one? Bell puts his head down and runs over defenders. Bush dances and loses two yards.

    Maybe a fresh start some place else would do him some good. I just don’t see him ever reaching his potential in New Orleans. But since he will count as $13 million against the Saints’ cap next year, I don’t see him being here unless he’s willing to restructure his contract and take back-up money since he is, for all intents and purposes, a back-up player. I wish him well wherever he lands, but I won’t mourn his departure either.

  • stan

    Brophy,

    To determine value, you have to evaluate how much of a difference a player makes in helping his team win. Dante Hall made a difference as a punt returner. In some years he was huge.

    He isn’t worth any more (in some areas less) than a replacement level player whether he’s running, receiving or returning punts. Bush’s yardage total doesn’t mean squat. [e.g. Larry Johnson completely sucks this year, playing well below replacement level, but he’s got 358 yards.]

    Bush isn’t adding any value. And given how much he costs, he is a huge net negative to the Saints.

    Bush and Hall are both quick, fast, undersized college running backs who were first round picks. Hall was deployed in a manner which used his talent to provide value. He helped his team win games. Bush hasn’t added any value, in part because the Saints projected him to be able to play RB in the NFL. They keep trying to get RB value from him and he isn’t suited for it.

  • stan

    Meant to write kick returner too, for Hall.

  • Felton

    There are several problems with Bush, in my opinion. First, to me, he lacks receiver skills – he’s very poor at shielding the ball, for example (witness Lance Moore as a guy smaller than Bush who has outstanding receiving skills). Second, Payton continues to try to force the game to Bush rather than letting the flow of the game get the ball to Reggie – I firmly believe Bush is more effective late rather than early. Third, it’s painfully obvious that Reggie is pressing. I’d love to see a short yardage package for the Saints with Bush as a jet reverse option – this would spread defensive pursuit to both sides and offer even bigger lanes to Bell and Thomas. That all said, after a miserable effort versus Miami, complete with stumbles, drops, losses and short gains, the hair on the back of my neck stands straight up as Bush violates several laws of physics to score.