Many running backs have had one stellar season, and Dolphins running back Reggie Bush joined those ranks with a breakout 2011 campaign. Now that he has proven he is capable of such performance, though, his new mission is to sustain that success into 2012.
As the Dolphins' most explosive offensive weapon, and perhaps their only weapon of note, there's some pressure for Bush to do just that.
The explosive potential was always within Bush; we had seen flashes of it over the first few years of his NFL career, but only when he joined the Dolphins and became their "feature back" was he able to sustain those flashes over the course of the season.
But in the grand scheme of things, that one stellar season could become yet another flash if he is unable to duplicate that success.
Some factors he has control over, while others are out of his hands.
Learn the New Offensive System
If there's one thing Bush has complete control over, it's his knowledge of the system.
Luckily, the West Coast offense that is being installed by head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is similar to the offense that he played in as a member of the Saints.
The best thing that could happen for Bush is for David Garrard to be named the starter. Garrard's nine years of NFL experience and his knowledge of the West Coast offense will help him tremendously, and although the playbook is similar to the one used at Texas A&M, the consensus is that rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill should and will ride the bench for a year.
Bush's 43 receptions were far fewer than his average with the Saints, which speaks to how he was utilized in 2011; he should be prepared to catch a few more passes in 2012 in the West Coast offense. Envision him being utilized a lot like Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.
Get Good Blocking
If Garrard is the starting quarterback, defenses will be eager to test his arm in his first year back after being sidelined for all of 2011 with a back injury and subsequent surgery. That could mean some loaded boxes.
That will leave it up to the offensive line to get a good push. The Dolphins are building toward a zone-blocking offensive front with smaller, more athletic offensive linemen; this could mean more lateral movement for Bush. He struggled in a similar zone-blocking scheme run in New Orleans, so it will be interesting to see if that continues in Miami.
Bush observed patience last year, but that will be tested even further in the zone-blocking scheme, where he'll have to wait for those holes to develop.
Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune points out that one reason for Bush's early struggles was that he hesitated too much looking for the big play, and that often caused him to be stuffed at or near the line of scrimmage.
Sean Payton tried to run the offense too much through Reggie Bush in 2007 and 2008. At the same time, Bush tried to hit the home-run play on every touch instead of finding holes and following blocks. Payton didn't force feed Bush in 2009 and 2010 and the offense became more dangerous. At the same time, Bush became too expensive to serve as a complimentary player. Durability after his rookie season was always a major issue as well and you can't discount that as a reason for his lack of consistency in New Orleans.
Clearly, big plays are a strength of his (more on that later), but his patience was a big reason for his success last year. He must remain disciplined and hit the hole when it opens instead of looking for the big play so often.
There are a few reasons why Bush struggled with the Saints, but his injury history may have been at the root of the problem. In the first five years of Bush's career, he missed a combined 20 games (four per season on average).
Last year, Bush missed just one game, the fewest games he missed in a season since his rookie season, and rushed for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. It's not crazy to suggest that his health helped him produce.
Play to His Strengths
Whether the blocking is good or bad, at some point, he's got to make defenders miss. Bush's explosive and elusive style of play are his best qualities, and both will need to be on full display if he is going to replicate last year's success, as both qualities were essential to his success in 2011.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bush was the 12th-most elusive back in the NFL last year (averaged 2.52 yards after contact and caused 35 missed tackles) and the 11th-most explosive (13 rushes of 15 or more yards).
This may be contradictory to the idea that he should remain patient, but those big plays were a big reason for his success last year. If he wants to be as successful in 2012 as he was in 2011, he'll have to get that production from somewhere. The fastest way to get it is by breaking off some big gains.
Bush isn't going to replicate his success if he's not getting chances to do so. Fortunately for him, it appears the Dolphins will continue to run the ball according to Izzy Gould of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Sherman’s Aggies in 2011 attempted 507 running plays and 537 passing plays. That came to an average of 80.3 offensive plays per game. ...In 2010, Sherman’s Aggies attempted more runs (519) than passes (515). And in 2009, Aggie rushing attempts (544) outweighed passing attempts (509).
The balance will be there, but with the addition of running back Lamar Miller and the presences of holdovers Daniel Thomas and Steve Slaton, the workload could be split up as it typically is in the NFL, with multi-pronged backfields becoming more prevalent.
But it wouldn't be crazy for Bush to get a heavy workload; the Packers under Philbin had a feature back in Ryan Grant, and the Aggies had a few under Sherman as well.
If he makes the most of that workload, his ability to replicate that success increases.