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Time running out in New Orleans for Reggie Bush

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Neil Reynolds | 11:29 UK time, Thursday, 17 September 2009

When the Houston Texans kicked off the 2006 NFL Draft by selecting North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams they were the laughing stock of the league. Their brave move was greeted with howls of derision.

Heading into that selection of the leading players in college football, anyone with half a gridiron brain thought the Texans would choose Reggie Bush, a star running back from the University of Southern California who went to the New Orleans Saints with the second pick.

No one is laughing at the Texans now - at least not about that move, anyway. While Williams has become a dominant defender who has recorded more sacks than any other player in the AFC over the past two seasons, Bush has been inconsistent, injury-prone and largely uninspiring.

Sure, there have been moments of magic and pure athletic genius. But those have been too few and far between. And now more than ever, Bush looks like being a luxury player and little more than that - he is someone who can carry the ball 10 times per game, catch five or six passes and return punts.

That's fine, but I'm sure the Saints would happily sacrifice the punt returns if Bush proved he were capable of pounding the ball into the heart of the opposing defence 22 times every weekend. And he clearly is not that kind of runner.

With his speed and moves, Bush is a highlight reel play waiting to happen. But there is more to being an NFL running back than that. It's also about heart and passion - there are times when you have to lower your head and plough forward for a two or three-yard gain. Grinding out those tough yards is an every-down runner's bread and butter.

Reggie Bush
Bush has struggled to make a big impact in the NFL despite an excellent college career

But that style of play just doesn't suit Bush. To be effective in the NFL, you have to run north and south at times, but Bush is more of an east-west kind of guy. If he did any more dancing in the backfield he'd be in danger of getting marks out of 10 from Len Goodman.

Time is running out for Bush to make his mark and prove he can be a regular performer in New Orleans. When Pierre Thomas (who has been named the starter above Bush) was out injured in last week's season opener at home against Detroit, the Saints turned to journeyman Mike Bell and he responded with 143 yards on the ground.

Bush was booed by Saints fans as his contribution consisted of seven runs for 14 yards and two lost fumbles. I know Bush has been working hard this week to make amends for that display, but I cannot see him playing a larger role in the immediate future.

With Bush in his fourth season, I'm not ready to paint him as a complete bust - he is too talented for that. But I also don't think we'll ever feature him in discussions about the best running backs in the business.

Game of the Week

We have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills on BBC 5 live sports extra this week, but I will also be keeping a close eye on the Baltimore Ravens' visit to the San Diego Chargers. That is the line-up I have predicted for the AFC Championship Game.

It should be a bruising affair featuring two talented teams but I have a feeling the Ravens will just sneak it behind the offensive duo of Joe Flacco and Ray Rice.

Prediction: Baltimore 27 San Diego 24

You can catch Neil commentating on an NFL game every Sunday on BBC 5 live sports extra throughout the season.(UK users only).


  • Comment number 1.

    Spot on comments, Reggie is an eye catching player but the stats just don't add up for him, and the fumbles are worrying. Thomas did well in his absence last year and deserves the number 1 RB spot.
    Thankfully we've got Drew and a great receiving corp to take the pressure off our runners!

  • Comment number 2.

    Just an additional announcement... We go on air at 9pm on Sunday evening but I will be closely monitoring all the early games as soon as they kick off.

    To read my thoughts on the early game action as it happens go to

    Shameless plug over !

  • Comment number 3.

    I think this assessment of Bush assumes that he should be considered as a running back, whereas I'm not convinced that's his position.

    Bush's biggest successes have come when the Saints have got him the ball in space - swing passes out of the backfield, screens in the middle of the field, and on kick and punt returns. Head coach Sean Payton was hired based on his prowess as an offensive coordinator, but as yet he hasn't completely found the right way to make Bush into the weapon he can be.

    That has partially been due to injuries to Deuce McAllister over the past two seasons that has forced them to use Bush as an inside runner, and also because of the success of Brees as a quarterback involving other members of the offense in the passing game.

    Personally, I see Bush as something distinct from a running back, receiver, tight end or H-Back - call it a J-Back if you want - but with all the offensive weapons the Saints have on offense, they ought to be able to develop some packages which use them as decoys and aim to give Bush the ball with room to run.

    With Mike Bell on the team now and clearly capable of carrying the running game, perhaps Bush will have the chance to shine more in this type of specialist role. I do agree that he may not end up being the running back that the NFL expected him to be when he was drafted amid so much hype, but I don't think that means that Bush won't eventually become a very valuable wespon in the Saints offense and a difference maker for a potential NFC Championship winning team.

  • Comment number 4.

    Ravens winning in Qualcomm ? ? ? That's a huge shout Neil.
    Chargers have such a variety of offensive weapons that even the XXX rated Ravens defence will be tested to the full.

    As for Reggie, injuries have got in his way that's for sure, he's still worth a spot as a slot receiver and kick returner, but if Bell racks up 140 yards a week on the ground then I doubt the Saints coaching staff will be that concerned.

  • Comment number 5.

    I agree ravens to win at san diego is a big shout, they were lucky last week at home to a weak kansas team! fair enough the chargers didn't click until late last week at the raiders but i think they'll have too much this weekend for the ravens.

    It'll be a great battle though between Rivers & Flacco

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree that Bush now looks a luxury player, not quite a bust but not worthy of a number 2 pick. Considering that in the same draft Maurice Jones-Drew went in the 3rd round and one year later Adrian Peterson was the first back picked at pick 7 both of whom have clearly performed better than Bush.

    I think the Saints would have loved it if Bush had gone number 1 and they could have picked Mario number 2.
    With the amount of points the Saints offense scores this forces the opposition to throw the ball. This is the perfect situation for Williams to excel and he could have had even more sacks than he has for the Texans.

  • Comment number 7.

    Great column Neil! While a tremendous talent in college, I always though Reggie Bush's talents wouldn't translate as well to the NFL. If he could learn to grind out those 3-4 yard gains between the tackles, then his east/west running style would open up more for him. As it stands now, defenses know he won't run between the tackles and they are focused on containment defense thereby preventing him from bouncing it to the outside.

    As for your Ravens/Chargers pick...I think you underestimate the difference that Darren Sproles, a.k.a the little lightening bug, will make in this game in kickoff/punt returns and from the backfield. Chargers will win, barely, 27-24. You can bet the house on that one!

  • Comment number 8.

    Here here, hank13. Back in the '80s it used to be called "scat back" but - even though offences are more spread out these days - the position doesn't seem to have stuck around.

    I guess that's partly because running backs are now all able to catch passes but also because the introduction of the salary cap made a third-down specialist a bit more of a luxury.

  • Comment number 9.

    Yep, Bush has not lived up to expectations (is this news?) but then again neither has Vince Young, picked 3rd in the same draft. However, I recall Parcells saying before the draft that he would pick Williams no question. Guess that is why he was such a good coach.

  • Comment number 10.

    Reggie was an absolute superstar at USC and i remember feeling gutted when the Jets dint trade up for him. While his career so far has been disapointing we shouldnt forget he was a massive part of the Saints run to the NFC game during his rookie season, Defenses were terrified everytime he touched the ball. He may only touch the ball 15 times a game but you always get the feeling he will take it to the house on his next touch, bit like Devin Hester

  • Comment number 11.

    I think his heart´s not in it but then again they don´t need him.

  • Comment number 12.

    Re: Ravens/Chargers - I think we'll win this provided we perform to an optimum level on defense. I'm not worried about L.T. - we've contained him in the past when he was a far bigger threat. Keeping Sproles from making big plays, particularly in the flat on screen plays is important, as is getting regular early pressure on Rivers to prevent big plays downfield, particularly on underneath routes where we've been vulnerable.

    Provided we set up the run early and Flacco takes his chances when they emerge, we should come out of SD with a win.

    And for those saying KC put up 24 pts on our defense last week, only 10 of those were actually down to the D (4th quarter drive and earlier FG), with remainder down to inept special teams play and the Flacco INT.

  • Comment number 13.

    There were a lot of people who questioned whether Bush would make it in the NFL when he was drafted. It's not just hindsight. We've seen it many times, speed based running backs who put up huge numbers in college just don't translate as the NFL defence players are so much quicker. a lot of people thought his teammate Lendale White would have a bigger impact

  • Comment number 14.

    It is crucial that the Saint's running game functions, whether is be Bush, Thomas when he gets back from injury, or Bell, who put up solid numbers at the weekend. Last season the running game was mediocre and didn't take the pressure of Brees sufficiently, because as talented as he is, every now and then he needs the RBs to contribute against the top Defences, he can't through 6 TDs every weekend, especially against strong Defences like Philly, the Giants etc. More balance is the key, as well as the Defence tightening up, so it will be an interesting weekend and Sunday could give a real indication of how deep the Saints can go this season.

    Really interesting article though, as I only started being an NFL fan last year, wasn't fully aware of Bush's history!

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm with Hank on this, Bush is best used as a form of utility back. Flare him out as a get-out for Brees and it'll isolate him with a defender more often which'll allow him to use his athleticism. He's definitely not an every-down back who'll graft for yards, so they're right not to play him that way, but flares, screens, and two-back formations give plenty of scope to make him a decent weapon.

    I also like the way that draft picks are labelled a Star or Bust. Where's the 'useful when used correctly' option? The 'has crafted a decent living for himself and scored a reasonable number of touchdowns' choice?

  • Comment number 16.

    I am calling a Ravens-Falcons superbowl, so will feel quite vindicated if the result at Qualcomm is as you have predicted...

    My wife has a cousin who went to UCLA and thou shalt not speak ill of Reggie when in his presence - and whilst I think some of your questions against him are fair, I'll present some of the case for the defense.

    1. I don't think you can hold his misfortune with injuries against him, especially when you look at how well he has recovered from them.

    2. Bush is all about total yards, not just rushing yards (he currently has more receiving than rushing yards). He averages over 80 total YPG over his career, which is fairly respectable if not spectacular, and occupies the defense every down he plays.

    3. I don't think Sean Payton ever believed Bush would not be part of a RB committee. Deuce McAllister and now Pierre Thomas are the north-south runners, Bush is the guy the Saints want to get out in the open where he can make big plays. Darren Sproles gets used very much the same way, and just as effectively, except he clearly hasn't borne the same expectations.

    Now obviously he hasn't made as many big plays as Saints fans want, and why's that? Two related reasons I think - opposition defenses scheme specifically to get to him, and Drew Brees throws a great long-ball.

    The fumbles, I think, are the one thing you can quite legitimately hold against him - 1 every 2.5 games is an horrendous statistic.

  • Comment number 17.

    "I also like the way that draft picks are labelled a Star or Bust. Where's the 'useful when used correctly' option? The 'has crafted a decent living for himself and scored a reasonable number of touchdowns' choice?"

    I think the draft picks given those descriptions are picked up from round 2 onwards. First round picks (and top 10 picks specifically) are given too much money to just become useful when used correctly players.

  • Comment number 18.

    bush has all the talent for a running back , most teams have two main running backs who share the load e.g. jacobs/bradshaw, johson/white, bush will excell as a late quarter rb who takes advantage of tired defences. put him up with some big bruising rb to pound the defence and he will excell in this system. well he should do anyway in theory anyway.

  • Comment number 19.

    I agree with Hank 13 and others who talk about Bush being more of an all-round weapon and a utility back. I accept that... but having said that, second overall pick in a draft is a high price to pay for what amounts to a bit part - albeit a talented one - for your offense.

    I would imagine when the Saints selected Bush in 2006, they expected a bit more for their investment. While they would not have expected a back who could carry the ball 30 times per game, they would have wanted a runner who could be productive when called upon to carry the ball 10-12 times per game and someone who they could start from time to time in the backfield.

    There are clear signs that the Saints don't think Bush is that kind of player now - if they trusted him completely to be an every-down back, he would not find himself behind a journeyman like Mike Bell on the depth chart.

    Bush still has a role to play on this Saints offense and he will still make highlight reel plays from time to time - all I think is that he will NEVER be considered a good running back in the NFL, let alone a great one.

    As Hank13 suggests, maybe we shouldn't look at Bush as a runner at all. But the Saints fans obviously expect more from the fourth-year player.

    The main thing Bush needs to do - and I understand there is an element of luck in this - is to stay healthy for an entire season and find a way to produce week in and week out for the Saints.

    He has the skills to do that - but certainly not as an every-down, grind-it-out runner.

  • Comment number 20.

    Great article, Neil, and good debate.

    Great to see some high-quality NFL coverage on the BBC, at last!

    Just to open up the conversation a little - what are everyone's opinions on other great draft "busts" from the recent past? I'm thinking Ryan Leaf territory, here...

  • Comment number 21.

    within the recent years i would say alex smith of the niners is a bust, if not then he has to be very very close to being a bust.

    on the other side, Adrian Peterson has lived upto his first round choosing as has urlacher, plus a favourite of mine, brandon jacobs, was a steal in the fourth.

  • Comment number 22.

    Akilli Smith and Heath Shuler are 2 big names that spring to mind LBC, though
    Shuler's probably were in part created by contract holdouts .............................are you reading M Crabtree ?

  • Comment number 23.

    "are you reading M Crabtree?"
    Doubt it ;-) Crabtree is becoming a nightmare for the 49ers though, especially as Hill could do with another weapon in the passing game.

    It takes a few years for players to become established in the league so having look at the first rounds over the years, recent Busts (including Smith) I would say are:
    Adam 'Pacman' Jones CB (Titans - pick 6 - 2005) - not for talent but for being a clown.
    Mike Williams WR (Lions - pick 10 - 2005)
    Erasmus James DE (Vikings - pick 18 - 2005)
    J.P. Losman QB (Bills - pick 22 - 2004)
    Charles Rodgers WR (Lions - pick 2 - 2003)
    Kyle Boller QB (Ravens - pick 19 - 2003)
    Michael Haynes - DE (Bears - pick 14 - 2003)
    Jonathon Sullivan - DT (Saints - pick 6 - 2003)

  • Comment number 24.

    I like the idea of Pacman Jones as a bust. In the same category we might find Michael Vick although he hope he may reinvent himself this season.

  • Comment number 25.

    True in terms of suspensions and off the field actions but Vick spent 6 years competing in the NFL before he went to jail. Vick had 3 Pro-bowl selections and led the Falcons to 2 play-offs including an NFC championship.

    Pacman is gone after 4 years and one of those he was suspended all season. For the Titans, only 2 years of production for a player picked number 6 of the first round = BUST.

  • Comment number 26.

    Greetings from New Orleans, Neil. I can tell you for sure we local fans are are very disappointed in Reggie. He came in with all this hype, to say nothing of his MAJOR contract. But his performance has been less than satisfactory. I know he's had problems with injuries. But we here in the Crescent City believe that "to whom much is given, much is expected". And we are still expecting. As far as trading him, who would take him with his contract? Cut him? Well, I don't see that happening. But if he doesn't have a good season this year, the coaches and GM are going to have to make some tough decisions. Especially in the current economy.

  • Comment number 27.

    Pacman was not a bust, he was just busted.

  • Comment number 28.

    "16. At 09:10am on 18 Sep 2009, Eddie-george wrote:
    My wife has a cousin who went to UCLA and thou shalt not speak ill of Reggie when in his presence"
    Eh? If he went to UCLA I'd think he'd be delighted that Reggie has not shone in the NFL. I went to Cal and, childish though it may be, it amuses me no end.
    Now that I've said that, as a Bills fan, no doubt he will have a massive game against Buffalo next week...
    But on the point overall I'm not sure why teams take running backs so high in the draft when IMO they are essentially a dime a dozen (Peterson aside). We've got a fairly decent first round back in Marshawn Lynch and the difference between him and backup Fred Jackson, an undrafted Division III product, is minimal.
    I'll be very interested to see what happens to Jahvid Best if/when he has a monster 2009 season and is a Heisman winner/runner up. Could be a very similar story to Bush.

  • Comment number 29.

    What a prediction Neil.

    Now the season is under way has anyone caught your eye and would you revise any of your predictions based on what you've seen?


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