Monday, June 9, 2008

Set Pieces - The Idea of Reggie Bush

It’s no secret that TiT is a fan of progressive offensive mentalities in football. This is not to say that everything needs to be flashy or fast and downfield all the time; that kind of spectacle generally exists only for spectacle’s sake, and is really anything but progressive in that it doesn’t change the way we think about the way the game “should be played.” For example, Detroit’s high power offense, absent any sort of ground attack, is simple viewed as more of the same, while Jacksonville’s offense, which lacks a true #1 WR and is single minded about clock control in a way no offenses are anymore, represents creative thought in response to a perceivable problem as opposed to rigid conformity to the status quo. That’s basically a wordy way of saying we like offenses that don’t try to fit square pegs into round holes; if the system doesn’t work for your personnel, why not recognize that the system is more malleable than the multimillion dollar personnel roster you’ve acquired?

This is, in large part, the reason why we’ve been so depressed about Reggie Bush over the last couple of years. Tagged with high expectations (for the record, Gale Sayers would have trouble with today’s NFL because of the way size and speed have found harmony in defensive backfields), Bush was handed a staggering contract and told he had to save a city. Since that time, he’s averaged around 3.6 yards a carry, put up only 10 touchdowns in two season, and has yet to pass 600 yards for a season rushing (though in his defense he played in only 12 games in 2007). Worse still, last year’s injury to Saints feature back Deuce McAllister put an unflattering spotlight on Bush’s inability to work effectively between the tackles. The result has been murmurs that “You don’t spend the second overall pick of the draft on a third down, change of pace running back,” and a general sense that Bush’s early disappointing returns necessarily signal that he’s failed to live up to the expectations fans and front office members had for him.

But this, of course, is only fair if we accept the expectations for Reggie Bush as unchangeable, where we can’t be satisfied without his meeting them. Maybe, then, an equal share of the blame we place on Reggie Bush for failing to be a feature back needs to be given to us for expecting him to be one. We knew upon his entry into the league that he was undersized, and had spent his college career in a two back system as the “lightning” half of “thunder and lightning.” How on earth does that equal a feature NFL back? Maybe it’s time we recognized that while everyone thought that the Saints were drafting RB Reggie Bush, what they were actually drafting, and what they got so excited about looking at film and seeing the way he excelled at the combine, is the idea of Reggie Bush in an NFL Offense.

That idea is still very viable, and is completely unattached to the position listed next to Bush’s name on the Saints roster. Looking through his stats, just as significant as his somewhat disappointing rushing numbers are the relatively impressive receiving statistics he’s accumulated. Setting aside last year (in which he still put up solid pass catching numbers, but was forced to settle into the uncomfortable role of feature back), Bush put up 742 receiving yards in year one, averaging 8.4 yards per catch. There’s no reason to think that he can’t still do that. The question, then, becomes whether or not the Saints are willing to let Reggie Bush move around the field in ways “unbecoming” of a feature RB, or if they continue trying to change Reggie Bush. Make no mistake, three years in, Bush has become as precise a route runner as many of the receivers from his draft class, and has the opportunity to become a threat from several different positions in the offense. Then again, that’s the idea of Reggie Bush: He shouldn’t be penned into a backfield, because then he loses his significance. Instead, whether or not Reggie Bush excels in his third year, a year in which pass catchers generally ripen, will depend in large part on whether or not Sean Payton and the Saints are willing to let Reggie Bush do Reggie Bush things, instead of trying to make him do running back things. That question, its significance for both Reggie Bush and his franchise, and the effect its answer could have on the way teams utilize talents that don’t comfortable fit into predetermined NFL molds make Bush’s play this year worth watching. Because even if all we ever hear is how the Saints didn’t draft Reggie Bush to be what he’s becoming, maybe that’s for the best.

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