Saints' Bush blending greatness, mediocrity
MIAMI — Reggie Bush can make the spectacular look routine.
And he can make the routine look too hard to handle.
Since the New Orleans Saints made the dynamic running back from Southern California the second overall pick in the 2006 draft, Bush has been a revelation and a disappointment. At times, he resembles the breathtaking game-breaker who won the Heisman Trophy in 2005. Then he morphs into a fumbling, pass-dropping, injury-ravaged nonentity — a third-stringer with little impact in the NFL's most potent offense.
Unquestionably, the Saints need him to display every one of his award-winning talents and none of his weaknesses in Sunday's Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts.
"I haven't lived up to the expectations I set for myself," Bush admitted Tuesday while seated on a podium at media day, surrounded by dozens of reporters. "Before I got to the NFL, I thought it would be the Super Bowl every year, make the Pro Bowl every year. You discover it's hard. It's hard to get to the Super Bowl. I've been in the league four years and just got here. There's a lot of great players who never get to the Super Bowl.
"I haven't lived up to the expectations I set for myself," he repeated, "but I know it will come.
"All I want to do is be the best player ever to play this game, and I'd be remiss if I didn't feel that way," Bush said. "If I didn't feel that way when I step on the field, I'd be selling myself short."
Some might argue Bush has come up far too short for the Saints. He hasn't made the Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. He hasn't approached 1,000 yards rushing in any season, and his career total of 1,940 yards is 66 fewer than second-year back Chris Johnson's for the Titans in 2009.
He hasn't beaten out Pierre Thomas, an undrafted free agent in 2007, for the starting job, but, worse, sometimes Bush is coach Sean Payton's third choice to carry the ball. His second choice is another undrafted player, Mike Bell.
Then there is Bush's inability to stay in the lineup. He's missed 12 of 48 regular-season games with a variety of knee injuries.
Ah, but then there are glimpses of greatness.
Two of them came in the divisional round victory over Arizona: an 83-yard punt return and a 46-yard run, each for scores. On both, Bush's burst past would-be tacklers was jaw-dropping.
Bush generally has lived up to his billing as a punt returner and is an important piece of Payton's passing schemes — so much so that opponents must plan for him at all times, even to the point of making sure a cornerback covers him.
"They have really good backs, fast backs with Reggie Bush," Colts linebacker Clint Session said. "We try not to get a lot of separation with a guy like him in the open field, so we're probably playing him a little tighter than normal.
"We have to know the beast, as we call it. Know the beast, respect his speed, and try to keep a close eye on him."
The Colts have a practice squad player named Taj Smith who is quite elusive, but as Session notes, Smith is no beast. And no Bush.
"That's a once-in-a-lifetime athlete that you'll see," Session said.
That's what everyone expected to see when Bush landed in New Orleans four years ago. Even members of the local archdiocese who often attend Saints games suggested Bush was destined to come to their city; after all, there was a St. Reginald of Orleans in France in the 13th century.
When the Houston Texans drafted defensive end Mario Williams with the first overall pick, the Saints never hesitated to select Bush, whose resume at USC included two national titles.
His rookie season was impressive, at times dazzling. He scored nine touchdowns, combined for 1,307 yards from scrimmage, and helped the Saints reach the NFC Championship Game for the first time since their inception in 1967.
He was healthy. He was productive. He was a budding superstar.
Since then, not so much.
Plagued by knee woes and inconsistency, Bush at times became an afterthought. The Saints didn't make the playoffs in 2007 and '08, and Bush made more headlines for his relationship with celebrity model and pitchwoman Kim Kardashian and his role in potential recruiting violations at USC.
Left knee surgery at the end of 2008 and a long recuperation slowed Bush for early parts of the 2009 schedule. The brilliant Bush didn't truly return until the Cardinals game last month.
"I've always been my biggest critic," he said. "I've always set the highest goals for myself. I aspire to be the MVP of the league, of the Super Bowl, all the highest goals that I can set. Eventually it's going to happen for me."
Maybe on Sunday.