Why NFL Teams Must Resist the Temptation to Back Up Brinks Truck for Reggie Bush

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

Sept. 30, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush (22) runs with the ball during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.  The Cardinals beat the Dolphins 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Reggie Bush is sure to garner interest on the free-agent market. However, any potential suitors should think twice before paying over the odds to land the 28-year-old running back.

Bush fell just short of recording only the second 1,000-yard rushing season of his career in 2012. That seems to have been enough for the Miami Dolphins to explore fresh options at the position.

It also raises further doubts about Bush's ability to be a true featured back. That debate has raged since he entered the NFL in 2006.

A look at Bush's running style and yardage breakdown quickly reveals a boom or bust runner. Concentrating on the first part of that description shows the big-play potential that will still entice some teams.

Bush's longest run of the season came in Week 2 against the Oakland Raiders. The screenshot below shows the opening alignment and the direction the run is originally intended to go.

From the red arrow, you can see that Bush is meant to run behind the tight end side of the formation. He is supposed to attack the gap between the 3 and the 4 holes. That is the outside shoulder of the left guard and the inside shoulder of the left tackle.

However, as the play develops, Bush alters his path. In the screenshot below, Bush quickly decides to exploit a collapsed edge with his speed.

He sees the double-team block by Anthony Fasano (80) and Jake Long (77). Even though he has a sizeable cutback lane to the inside, Bush still heads for the outside.

Once he turns up field and makes his move toward the sideline, Bush simply lets his speed take over. The screenshot below shows how easily his acceleration can undermine a defense.

As Bush veers towards the sideline, both Raiders safeties, Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff (24), have decent pursuit angles. However, despite being favorites to close to the play, Bush's speed soon leaves both defensive backs trailing.

It is a common theme for teams featuring explosive runners to simply let the back take care of the safeties. Bush still has this capability, shown in the screenshot below.

Once he presses the sideline, Bush simply trusts his direct speed to outrun the trailing Raiders defense. He completed a 65-yard scoring run to key an emphatic victory.

That potential to stretch the field will always tempt teams looking to add big plays on offense. However, it's also what gives Bush a deceptively impressive yards per carry average.

He averaged 4.3 yards per carry in 2012. Yet for every run like this one against the Raiders, Bush also posted multiple minimal gains.

His performance in Week 2 was one of only two 100-yard games he recorded last season. The problem for Bush is that his speed is his best asset. While he's still quick, he is beginning to slow.

That's understandable after seven pro seasons and being 28. However, it does severely reduce his effectiveness, especially against more competent defenses.

In Week 5, Bush was held to 48 yards on 19 carries by the Cincinnati Bengals. That broke down to a pitiful 2.5-yard average.

An early play showed how Bush's trust in his ailing speed often gets into him into trouble. In the screenshot below, Bush has taken the handoff and is already looking to press the edge.

Bengals cornerback Terence Newman is initially occupied on the outside with wide receiver Brian Hartline. Further infield, the Dolphins actually have the play-side defensive end blocked pretty well.

However, another problem caused by Bush's faith in his speed, is it makes him an unimaginative runner. He has never had to rely enough on adjusting or expanding his repertoire of moves.

That means he often makes the kind of bad choices shown in the screenshot below.

On this play Bush should narrow the path of his run toward the inside. He should aim to run off the shoulder of the defensive end.

Instead he rejects this sensible choice and continues to press the outside. Look below at how laterally Bush is running, seemingly aiming straight for the sideline.

A more instinctive runner, would have read the initial block on the defensive end and quickly turned upfield. Bush's insistence on bouncing to the outside kept him sideways and ran him into immediate trouble.

Newman is the first to close on Bush and dropped him for a two-yard loss. Runners who go sideways are a dream for a defense and make it easier to create negative plays.

Bush has never added the subtlety to his athleticism that any true every-down back needs. The kind of elementary mistake shown in this play is one a featured runner shouldn't make.

Bush's biggest issue is that once his speed fails, he quickly runs out of ideas. This was evident against the Buffalo Bills in Week 16. Bush gained only 65 yards on 19 carries, posting a mediocre 3.4 yards per carry.

The screenshot below shows Bush facing another 4-3 alignment. He is going to attempt to use his speed to beat the strength of the Bills' defense.

Bush will wisely attempt to run away from defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. However, once the play develops Bush is denied his familiar path to the edge of the defense. The screenshot below shows how quickly this makes Bush uncertain.

He opts against beating defensive end Shawne Merriman and safety George Wilson (37), to the outside. This is perhaps the clearest sign of Bush's diminishing speed.

Without it, he is challenged to make quick and smart decisions in the backfield. Again he takes the wrong option. The screenshot below shows how.

He can either shift around his center and run behind right guard John Jerry (74). The gain would likely be short, but positive. The other option is to go the inside, where Dareus is single-blocked and has leverage on both sides.

In the end Bush was caught in two minds. He went for the outside shoulder of Dareus, who promptly stuffed him for no gain.

With his best asset diminishing, Bush doesn't possess the instincts or savvy to gain consistent, positive yards. That means he is ill-suited to a heavy workload on the ground. That's not the kind of disclaimer that should apply to a free-agent running back seeking a big contract.

Of course any argument in favor of signing Bush will rest on his versatility as a receiver. However, his numbers as a receiver haven't hit the 300-yard mark since 2009.

In fairness, that was when he last played for the New Orleans Saints, in a more explosive offense. However, Bush was very much a role player for the Saints.

Even with more sophisticated passing schemes dominating the league, teams will be loathed to pay top dollar for a situational player. There's also the fact that much of Bush's skills as a receiver are also based on his speed.

With that speed diminishing, his proficiency as a pass-catcher becomes dubious. A good example is from Week 3 against the New York Jets.

Take a look at the screenshot below to see how teams still believe Bush can be used.

Notice how he has split out into the slot on the weak side. The Jets know of Bush's past threat as a receiver, as do most teams. The point being, Bush will always draw attention when aligned in this way.

In the past, Bush could rely on his skills and athleticism to defeat coverage. The screenshot below shows how this has changed.

Once he catches the pass, Bush is immediately faced by cornerback Darrelle Revis. The play design could be called into question. However, this pass has clearly been drawn up to rely on Bush winning in the open field.

Bush has two ways around Revis, but he is no longer quick or agile enough to make his moves and win. Revis makes the tackle that Bush fails to elude or escape and the result of the play is a one-yard gain.

The danger he offers as a receiver is a big part of Bush's skill set. With that no longer what it was, teams simply can't justify paying him major money this year.

Potential suitors should be even more reluctant when considering Bush's fumbling issues. He has 27 career fumbles and put the ball on the ground four times last season, losing two.

One of those came against the Jets in Week 8. This particular turnover reveals one of Bush's main problems, namely the way he carries the ball. This issue is highlighted in the screenshot below.

Notice how Bush doesn't run with two hands on the ball. He seldom does, opting against protecting the ball in his carrying arm with a hand on top.

The ball is also cradled on the side, away from Bush's body. This makes it easier for defenders to rip or knock the ball out.

On this play it is one of Bush's own players who inadvertently jars the ball loose. The screenshot below shows how.

As he falls into the pile, Bush lands on guard Richie Incognito. Because the ball is cradled loosely and almost turned sideways, it easily comes loose when Bush collides with his prone left guard.

Maybe this problem could be corrected with some tough coaching. Tom Coughlin once did this for Tiki Barber with the New York Giants.

However, it is certainly tough for a 28-year-old running back to start learning new tricks. This kind of coaching is something a new team might begrudge if they have already paid big to sign Bush.

Dave Brikett of The Detroit Free Press recently suggested Bush will command as much as $5 million annually as a free agent. Running back-needy teams have to be wary of paying this sum.

Suspect ball handling, declining physical skills and dubious versatility are hardly attributes to justify that salary.

All screenshots courtesy of CBS Sports and NFL.com Gamepass.


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