Not since Aaron Brooks has a player divided Who Dat Nation like Reggie Bush. I often wonder how different things would be if Reggie was a second round draft choice instead of the second overall draft choice. Despite the comparisons to being the future Gayle Sayers coming out of college that were never realized, Saints fans would still love Reggie Bush more than Patriots fans loved Kevin Faulk.
Most fans and media would rank Reggie as one of the best role players or even "third down backs" in the NFL. More importantly, Reggie would probably have played much better throughout his first five years. So why does "where he was picked" have such an impact in perception and his play?
The second overall selection carries with it great expectations, along with a great price tag. Who doesn't look at Reggie's contract numbers these last two years and say, "He's not worth that."? Let me ask you a different question: If Reggie didn't have that contract, what would you think of him?
We all know where Reggie was picked. If the Saints didn't choose Reggie, their most realistic options were to trade down or draft D'Brickshaw Ferguson or A.J. Hawk (preferably after trading down a few spots). If Houston had chosen Reggie, the Saints would have drafted Mario Williams. Passing on Reggie wasn't really much of an option, and I don't recall anyone giving an option that wouldn't be ridiculed in absence of a trade down at the time. So you can't fault the Saints for selecting him. Sure, that pick comes with a hefty price tag but within days of being drafted, the Saints practically sold out their Superdome-- and this was before we knew Drew Brees was going to fully recover and become "Breesus." Merchandise sales shot through the roof, too.
Back to the pay of a second overall choice. We can say that each year's draft slot makes 5-10% more than the previous year's (depending on position -- QB's traditionally get more). Reggie didn't hold out and he didn't bend the Saints over a barrel to try and get more than was customary. In fact, during the next few years he restructured his contract twice in order to provide cap relief so the Saints could sign a few free agents. Reggie is still getting the same amount of money over the next few years -- he's just getting it in a different structure, with more coming later.
Reggie took less money to help the Saints manage their salary cap and sign other players on two different occasions, and without publicity. He helped the team in a major way. Have you heard of Will Smith or Charles Grant doing anything similar after becoming top paid DE's without the top production?
So before you see that Reggie is set to make almost $12 million and yell, "He isn't worth it," understand why that number is so high. Also understand that even if Reggie played like Barry Sanders, he still wouldn't be worth that much money -- the RB position has been devalued in the NFL. Simply put, if you want to point the finger at something, point the finger at the existing Rookie Wage Scale -- that's where the problem lies.
Now, on to what Reggie's done (or not done) on the field. During his first few years, Reggie led the NFL in third down conversions. He had more receptions in his first two seasons than any other player ever. He was leading the NFL in touchdowns his third season before being injured. His fourth season saw a shift and refinement in how he was used, while his fifth season was basically lost to injury.
Sean Payton learned how to utilize Reggie "on the fly." The NFL hadn't seen a player with the particular skill set Reggie possesses as a running back. Jim Miller, former QB and Sirius NFL analyst, said it best: "Reggie can run routes that every other running back can't run, and run them better than some wide receivers."
With the special skills Reggie has that are unique to a player at his position, Sean Payton began to evolve his version of offense, using West Coast principles and turning it into something much more innovative and agressive. His "Gulf Coast Offense" has set a few trends around the NFL today.
For now, we'll focus on how the use of Reggie became refined to the benefit of our offense. I won't discuss special teams because I believe his return skills are a wash with the bad and good cancelling each other out. I feel his value is to our offense, so that's where the conversation will stay.
As a rookie, Reggie was kind of like a very explosive Kevin Faulk. only he wasn't used just on third down. We saw Reggie in the backfield with Deuce, often times running misdirection plays and clearing a player or two out of the box, making Deuce's job much easier. Reggie caught plenty of balls out of the backfield and forced defenses to defend the Saints from sideline to sideline. 2006 caught a few teams by surprise. Reggie never broke a big conventional run but he turned a pass or two into something spectacular. He had his flashes.
Yet it all came to a halt in Chicago during the NFC Championship Game. We may blame cold weather but the issue had more to do with the kind of defense Chicago played -- particularly the speed of their front seven. The front seven in a 4-3 defense consists of all three starting LB's, the two DE's, and the two DT's. Chicago ran what is commonly referred to as a "Tampa 2" or "Cover 2" defense. Predominantly, these defenses have a faster front 7 than other 4-3 defenses. More times than not, a "Tampa 2" front 7 is smaller as well. Yet the cornerback's you'll normally see in the "Tampa 2" are bigger than average and play the traditional role of safety in run support.
Here's the significance: a team with that much speed in the front seven can defend sideline to sideline much easier. In other words, it's a lot harder to beat someone to the edge -- those misdirection plays kind of lose their luster. 2007 opened with Indianapolis and Tampa -- two teams using the same defense with very good speed in the front seven. What was needed to combat this was a physical run game between the tackles -- not a "cute" play that fools a team into being out of position.
The Saints started 0-4, and before we knew it, Deuce was pretty much done. Payton then began to use Reggie as a feature back. This was as much a learning experience as well as a learning experiment. Most questions as to how Reggie's skills translated to the NFL were answered by then. Until Pierre Thomas (then a rookie UDFA) could learn all the adjustments and pass protections, Reggie was carrying the load as best he could with Aaron Stecker. Defenses had digested, dissected and caught on to what Payton did in 2006, and how best to defend Reggie in the running game.
Reggie wasn't the best at breaking tackles. He's caught flak for "not being able to run between the tackles," though I don't believe that is the case. Some even would go as far as to say that our offensive line blocked differently with Reggie at running back. Here's my theory: When Reggie is lined up as the feature back, defenders play the run much differently than when other running back's are behind Drew.
They shoot the gap, sell out, and crash into the backfield -- either forcing Reggie to take a very small gain or go outside and chance a loss of yards. They don't maintain gap integrity and force the flow to a linebacker. They attack Reggie before Reggie can get to space, betting that they have the speed to beat him to the edge if he takes the bait and bounces it outside.
The holes other backs would normally see aren't there for Reggie because the defense isn't playing with the same discipline, a point most fail to notice. This started out as a negative, but was later turned into a positive. Sometimes, you have to do something that doesn't work so well to set up something aggressive that really hurts the defense. With a defense having a tendency of selling out to stop Reggie for no gain, they became vulnerable in other areas. Reggie's value as a decoy went up ten-fold.
We started to see the results of this in 2008. The running game wasn't quite where it needed to be but with the addition of Jeremy Shockey, the Saints passing attack exploded. Reggie's value as a decoy played a part in this. Because of his unique skills, Reggie demanded bracket coverage when coming out of the backfield as a wide receiver. A defense either had to put a nickel back on Reggie or bracket him with a linebacker and safety. The LB would carry (cover) Reggie for the first 5-7 yards or so, then a S would take over as Reggie progressed in his route. Adding Shockey to the mix took another linebacker and safety out of the equation, because Shockey could gain separation from a LB (like Reggie). So these two players occupied four defenders-- two linebackers and two safeties-- throughout the course of one play. This gave the Saints wide receivers many one-on-one opportunities and led to Drew eclipsing the 5,000 yard mark in a season. But it didn't lead to the promised land because they were still lacking on defense and in the running game.
In 2009, the Saints running game blossomed with a change to their running backs coach and in their running philosophy (Payton went from long developing rushing plays he brought over from Dallas to quicker, more efficient runs). Having Nicks and Evans together for the first time helped tremendously as well. With a respectable rushing attack and defenses having to account for Reggie and Shockey with bracket coverage, our offense had no problem creating mismatches and moving the ball. Reggie's yards per carry in the run game surpassed 5.0. He was used less, but more efficiently as a "traditional" back, and still was a danger as a pass catcher.
Many of you will say, "But Drew and our offense did ___ without Reggie!" Guess what? You're right. So how can I sell you on Reggie's value to the offense? Easily. Consider the defense. In 2009, Gregg Williams blitzed more than just about every other team, yet the Saints didn't have many sacks. It was just the same in 2010. The only great difference was that they created many turnovers from the pressure in 2009. What they lacked in quality blitzers, they made up for in quantity of blitzes. Can you imagine how much more effective and efficient their blitzes would be if they had more talent in the front seven? Gregg Williams would be able to do more with less.
In the Saints offense, that is what Reggie allows -- Sean Payton and Drew Brees to do more with less. Instead of scheming and performing several different successful plays to set up a big play, with Reggie's unique skills Payton is able to accomplish the same objectives and exploit the same weaknesses with more ease. Yes, their offense is still very good (at times) without Reggie but the fact of the matter is that defenses have to account for him. They have to give him more respect as a pass catching running back than they do Pierre Thomas or Chris Ivory or (insert name here). You'll never see bracket coverage on Pierre. You'll never see a nickle cornerback lined up opposite of Ivory in the slot.
Don't believe me? Listen to any pre or post game interview with defenders and defensive coordinators of other teams. Ask around. Why else are other teams trying their darnedest to find a Bush clone? Is it better to try and force a square peg into a round hole to fit your expectations, or is it better to utilize special talent in innovative, unique ways that work?
Just think of the impact Reggie has had on the NFL. How many teams since the initial success the Saints have had with Reggie have tried to copy that aspect of their offense? Dallas with Felix Jones, Minnesota with Percy Harvin, Philadelphia with DeSean Jackson, Cleveland with Joshua Cribbs, Atlanta with Jacquizz Rodgers, etc. How many teams have gone to a dual running back approach after the Saints success in '06? Don't be so focused on what he doesn't do as a "halfback" that you completely miss his impact as a football player.
My point is that dissapointment does not equal bust. Nor does it equal useless. Nor does it equal not valuable. The offense can function without him; it has proved that. But it has also been more effective at times with him. All I am saying is that Reggie has had a positive impact on the team. Want to argue he's no Peterson? I agree. If he had more big plays like Barry Sanders, he would silence his critics; but he doesn't and some criticism is warranted.
But to say he is horrible or has no impact and is a bust is completely unintelligent and inaccurate. This offense doesn't need Bush to be Adrian Peterson, much the same way it doesn't need Colston to be Larry Fitzgerald. The point is, criticize him for what he is not but at least acknowledge what he is. It's called being objective and constructive. You don't motivate a worker by constantly rubbing his face in only the things he does wrong or doesn't do.
Can Reggie become more efficient as a runner? I think so. I think the offensive line coaching change coupled with the philosophy change (in terms of who runs, how often, when, and the types of running plays used) are helping every back on this team run more successfully. Reggie is best served playing within the system, being used like the Patriots use Faulk, as well as the occasional run play that gives validity to the decoy plays. It's exactly those decoy/misdirection plays that make Reggie better than Faulk, that opened holes for Deuce in 2006 and that helped the Saints rag-tag group of wide receiver's get better coverage match-ups.
Fact is, Payton knows exactly what Reggie can and can't do, and will put Reggie in the best position to succeed. Reggie is most effective when you have that big bell cow threat in the backfield next to him. I think Reggie could have one of his biggest years with Mark Ingram next season, which is why I really hope Reggie steps back and realizes what a great position he's in.
I'm not blind enough to say that Reggie isn't culpable for any of his issues. Reggie, in the past, has trained away from the team. Reggie has had myriad off-field issues and has not looked mentally in the game at times. But probably his biggest issue, to this day, is that he tries too hard to live up to "his expectations because he's so competitive."
Leaving New Orleans would be taking the "easy way out," and I do believe that he wouldn't be set up for success as well as he'd be if he stays. If Reggie really wants to prove himself, he shouldn't point the finger at opportunitie, coaches, etc. He should buckle down and focus on performing the tasks catered for him by the team that has defended him and given him every opportunity to prove himself. In short, Reggie needs to "man up."
Truth is, New Orleans is where Reggie fits. I think if it weren't for the media billing him as the next coming of Gayle Sayers and if it weren't that everyone knew what Reggie was making, fans would respect the contributions Reggie has made for the team. He's active in the community and has been generous to the city. If he would stop reading the papers so much and stop pressing as a result to make something happen, and if we could cut him some slack, I see nothing but growth for Reggie and our respect for what he does as a football player.
Reggie is more valuable to our offense than fans and local media give him credit for. Reggie is in prime position for a breakout year if he stays with the Saints. The staff and front office know this and have said it in as many different ways as they can. They will offer Reggie above market value to stay because 1) he is valuable to them and 2) you can bet someone like Tampa will be in a hurry to sign him. In the end, it comes down to whether Reggie will check his ego at the door and be comfortable becoming the greatest specialty player ever, or go to another team to try and become what he will never be.
P.S.--In his 60 games with the Saints, Reggie has averaged 4.0 yards per carry and 7.3 yards per reception. Reggie averages 70 yards of offense and scores .483 touchdowns per game. These numbers do not include his special teams contributions; strictly offense.
In his 47 games with the Saints, Pierre Thomas has averaged 4.7 yards per carry and 8.1 yards per reception. Pierre averages 61 yards of offense and scores .511 touchdowns per game. These numbers do not include his special teams contributions; strictly offense.
In his 72 games with the Saints, Marques Colston has averaged 3.5 yards per carry and 13.8 yards per reception. Marques averages 71 yards of offense and scores .556 touchdowns per game.
In conclusion, I would argue Reggie is at least AS critical to the success of our offense as Pierre Thomas and Marques Colston. <!-- / message --><!-- sig --> __________________