Thursday, June 6, 2013

Two in the Bush - Why Reggie Bush and the Lions a perfect match

By the start of the 2011 NFL season, the book on Reggie Bush as both a player and a man had already been written. Coming out of college from noted super program USC, Reggie was hailed as a modern day version of Gale Sayers; a game warping athlete who could hurt defenses as a runner, receiver or return specialist. The results on the field however, were considerably less impressive. Although Bush had carved out a niche for himself as an (at times) explosive punt returner and an elite receiver out of the backfield; as a running back and former 2nd overall draft pick, he was essentially a bust. Five injury-riddled seasons in New Orleans had lead to questions about his size, durability and willingness to run the ball between the tackles with authority. At that point Bush had missed 20 out of a possible 80 regular season games with the Saints and rushed for a paltry 2090 yards combined over five seasons. Although Bush had turned up his performance in the 2009 playoffs, the general consensus was that he was just another passenger on the Drew Brees/Sean Peyton Superbowl train. Off the field Bush's image wasn't much better. To the casual fan, Reggie was more famous for returning his Heisman trophy and his often tumultuous relationship with reality TV star Kim Kardashian than anything he had accomplished in football. During that off season the cash-strapped Saints thought so highly of Bush that they traded him to Miami for a backup safety  and the right to swap 6th round picks in the draft. The story went that Reggie Bush was all sizzle and no steak; just another college glamor boy who got knocked on his over-hyped ass when it came time to compete with grown men in "The League."

Unfortunately for Bush, when he was traded from the high-flying Saints to the moribund Dolphins he naturally fell out of the television spotlight. Few national scribes bother to tell the stories of losing teams and so for many fans the Reggie Bush narrative remained unchanged; the man himself frozen in time as a draft day cautionary tale. That's really too bad, because if the national media had been paying attention they would have discovered what Miami fans were learning every week; Reggie wasn't just re-writing his story, he was setting it ablaze, pissing on it and taking his career completely off script. To call Bush's two years in South Florida a career revival would be a grave misnomer; what Reggie accomplished in Miami is more like a career reinvention. Playing in 31 of a possible 32 games, Bush paced the Dolphins attack with 2072 rushing yards on 443 carries (4.68YPC) while throwing in 78 receptions for an additional 588 yards and 15 combined touchdowns. While these numbers are certainly impressive, they only tell part of the Reggie Bush transformation story. In New Orleans, Bush had struggled to find an identify before his inconsistency, and the Saint's tendency to line him up as a slot-back eventually pushed him into a 3rd down/gadget player role. Presented with a chance to actually play running back in a more traditional but talent starved Miami offense, Bush seized the opportunity with gusto. After years of dancing in the backfield, Bush adopted a "one cut and go" running style that allowed him to hit the designated hole with speed and power. Remarkably, the diminutive Bush also developed a mean streak; while still capable of making tacklers miss to the outside the "new" Reggie also seemed to delight in running the ball inside at the very heart of the defense. Although Bush still split time with Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller in Miami the important distinction is that, this time Reggie was the primary back while the larger men played a more situational role.

The most stunning part of Bush's metamorphosis as a Dolphin however lies not in his physical game but in his growth as a professional athlete. In New Orleans his draft position, lack of production, glamorous off the field lifestyle, numerous injuries and the presence of Drew Brees made it impossible for Bush to display his leadership skills. On a young Miami team however, Reggie became a role model, mentor and one of the hardest working players on the squad. Although he still had plenty of swagger; Bush no longer came off as cocky so much as confident and his presence helped set the tone for the entire team. In fact, Bush was such an integral part of the Dolphins that it's somewhat shocking he was available on the free agent market at all. The decision to let Reggie walk was not popular amongst the Miami faithful and even Dolphins coach Joe Philbin had nothing but positive things to say about Bush after he was signed by the Lions this offseason. Management in Miami is said to be very high on Lamar Miller and after a free agent spending spree it's clear the Dolphins were planning to get younger (and cheaper) at running back this year; regardless of Bush's 2012 performance. As the saying goes, "one man's trash is another man's treasure"; on March 13th the Lions signed Reggie Bush to a very reasonable 4 year, $16 million contract that just might be the team's single biggest coup in the Free Agency era.

From a technical standpoint the advantages of having Reggie Bush in the fold are numerous for the Lions offense. Bush's combination of speed, receiving ability and big play potential will add a desperately needed explosive dimension to Detroit's attack. This should in turn keep opposing defenses "more honest" as they try to defend against both Bush and Calvin Johnson simultaneously. The fact that Bush excels on screen passes, can operate in small spaces and breaks a remarkable number of tackles for a man his size will also be a great boon to an inexperienced (and potentially just bad) offensive line. Of course, it's a good thing Bush has such great hands out of the backfield because his pass blocking can best be described as "miserable". While I won't claim to have an inside scoop on the Lion's 2013 offense; Bush's versatility and a lack of other reliable options in the passing game should allow the Lions to line him up in the slot as a receiver from time to time. With the departure of Titus Young and another year of wear on Nate Burleson's tires it's entirely possible that a split out Bush would be the second most dangerous "receiver" on the roster. Perhaps most importantly of all however, Bush's ability to operate as a true 3 down back gives the Lions some insurance in an unstable backfield situation. The jury is still very much out on Mike Leshoure's ability to be a starting running back in the NFL and Joique Bell probably isn't talented enough to justify a feature back role. For now the plan is to rotate all 3 backs and attack defenses with fresh legs; however should the Lions young runners falter, Bush will be happily waiting to gobble up their carries and keep the Lions afloat. In terms of X's and O's, this signing makes so much sense that I'm still a little shocked that historically inept Detroit management actually pulled the trigger.

While there's no question the Lions' video game offense will benefit from the presence of a threat like Bush; this signing also promises to help Detroit in the locker room. The Lions efforts to eradicate a "culture of losing" resulted in a surprise playoff berth in 2011 and the brass responded by sitting on their hands; content to allow younger talent to develop. Whether due to injury, ineffectiveness or insanity this plan worked out poorly; the Lions lost their final 8 games and finished 4-12. While Schwartz and Mayhew would never admit it publicly, they have to know that 2012 was a savage blow to the psyche of a young, rebuilding team. Enter Bush, who knows a thing or two about answering the bell when virtually everyone is expecting you to fail. At this point in his career there isn't an ounce of fear left in Reggie's body; when someone punches him in the mouth Bush knows full well to punch right back. The Lions will benefit from his work ethic, experience and his swagger before Bush ever plays a down in Detroit. He's already told reporters that the Lions can win a Super Bowl and while those outside of Allen Park may groan; there's no question his young teammates heard the message loud and clear. Reggie Bush believes in the Lions and that gives the Lions another excuse to believe in themselves; for a team that hit the canvas crying "no mas" halfway through 2012 that belief is a priceless commodity.

To be completely fair, I have my doubts about Reggie's statement that the Lions can win a Super Bowl. While I will concede that by virtue of being a team in the NFL it is possible for the Lions to win; the team as presently constructed has too many holes at key positions and serious depth issues. Bush plays neither defensive back, nor offensive line and the Lions will need significant improvement from both groups just to make a Wild-card spot. In that regard a Super Bowl seems somewhat unlikely; to say the least. What I am sure of however, is that Reggie Bush is a player who brings the team closer to the ultimate prize that remains only a rumored whisper in Lion country. I also find it heartening that in this modern era of highly paid mercenaries and interchangeable laundry it's still possible for the "right guy" to end up in "the right place" for all parties concerned. I believe that Reggie Bush will play hard for the Lions because he feels Detroit in his soul and he senses a second shot at greatness. Unlike so many of the Lions previous free agent hires, Bush isn't here because nobody else would give him nearly as much money. He's a Lion because he sees the opportunity to rewrite the team's story with Matt Stafford and Megatron. Win or lose, Reggie Bush is all in and that alone suggests things are improving for the Detroit Lions. In the stale offseason winds of June, that counts as a victory for a franchise and fan base that could certainly use a few.

- Sportsball Chic


  1. Great article. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you. I try to write a little bit every day; maybe some day the boys over at Grantland will notice :) (Dream big!) :)