Gut-Check Time: Reggie Bush at the Crossroads

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Gut-Check Time: Reggie Bush at the Crossroads

IconAn MRI on Deuce McAllister's left knee Tuesday morning revealed that he's out for the season with a torn ACL.

It's a devestating blow to the Saints. McAllister is one of the league's smartest runners, with a first-rate combination of vision and power.

His absence puts the fate of the Saints' running game squarely on the shoulders of Reggie Bush.

Bush was the near-consensus top talent in the 2006 NFL Draft, after one of the most productive and exciting college seasons ever. I think I speak for everyone in saying his feats that year were nothing short of astounding.

Despite his lack of traditional running back size, Bush was regarded by most to be what draft experts call a "sure thing."

Needless to say, expectations were sky high. Actually, "sky high" doesn't really do them justice—Reggie was dubbed a "savior," and possibly the next Marcus Allen.

In hindsight, those expectations were unrealistic and unfair.

Even a player as talented as the SoCal legend can experience growing pains in the NFL.

In his rookie season, Bush was more of a situational threat and distracting decoy than a bona fide star. His big moments came on special teams, and on plays designed for him to get the ball in space.

"Space" is a little bit harder to come by in the NFL, though, as Reggie has learned.

Now, there's no denying the fact that Bush could enjoy a long and productive career as a situational threat and special teams ace.

But shouldn't we expect more?

This is Reggie Bush we're talking about, after all—the same player who looked infallible before he entered the league.

How long will the growing pains last? How good of a player can No. 25 become?

We're going to find out very soon.

Bush has never been a primary tailback, and though his ability and potential seem limitless, there are some serious questions regarding his ability to produce full-time between the tackles.

He averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per carry last season, and didn't have a run longer than 20 yards until the first quarter of the divisional playoffs.

Like I said, we've all seen Bush's greatness as an NFL player. But he's never had to bear the responsibility of full-time duty—something that any "great" NFL player has to do throughout his career.

In his previous role, Bush had the luxury of struggling. Deuce was always there to pick up the slack and grind out the tough yards.

Reggie, at this point in his career, may not be fit to do the same.

Which brings us right back to the million-dollar question: How good a player can No. 25 become?

"Elite" success as a return man and gadget-play specialist is extremely difficult to maintain in the NFL. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a player in recent history who has skirted full-time duty and still been widely recognized as one of the NFL's better players.

Looking way back, the only example I can find is Colts RB/WR Lenny Moore, one of football's biggest stars during the 50s and 60s.

The game has changed, though. Players are bigger and stronger. Holes close faster. Space  is rare—and ephemeral at that.

Bush's quest to prove his worth begins when the Saints take the field two Sundays from now against the Panthers. Will he be up to the challenge?

In time, perhaps. But I'm not sold.

Bush is going to have a productive and exciting career, that's for sure. But will he ever live up to the hyperbole and become one of the NFL's elite players?

The Saints' fate as a team this season and beyond hinges on it.

No matter what happens, the show should be fun to watch.

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