With the Miami Dolphins trading for Reggie Bush last week, it dawned on me that we may never have had a more explosive player in a Dolphins uniform. Reggie is a guy who can score from any spot on the field in a variety of ways, something we have sorely missed offensively here in Miami for what seems like forever. He's an offensive Transformer, sometimes a receiver, sometimes a running back, sometimes a punt returner. His NFL highlight reel (after the jump) is a thing of beauty, displaying his speed, vision, agility, and even some quality leaping ability (Gibril Wilson will attest to that).
But there are concerns. The injury questions are the most prominent, with Reggie missing, on average, 4 games per season since he came into the league. He's played 60 games in 5 seasons with the Saints. Last season in particular he was only available for 8 games due to a broken leg. That injury itself is also a concern. Will he still be the undeniably fast and explosive player he was? Luckily, it wasn't a ligament or tendon injury, which tend to rob players of those abilities. Broken bones heal fully without surgery, so it shouldn't be an issue going forward. There are other questions surrounding Bush, however. Take a look at his career stats. They aren't very impressive, there's no doubt about that. But we'll go deeper into that later in this post. Before we get started on what he can and cannot do, though, I want you to watch the highlight film and enjoy.
That was fun. The first thing I noticed in that video was the many different ways he scores touchdowns. Punt returns, inside runs, outside runs, pitches, reverses, downfield passes, screen passes, checkdowns, draw plays, it's essentially a list of all the possible ways points can be put on the scoreboard. And he does them all. The second thing that jumps out at you is how Reggie is practically untouchable in the open field. Even with multiple defenders nearby, he's able to make guys miss and pull away. And the third part of that video that catches my eye is the physical finishes to some of those runs. It's a part of his game he has worked on, and something that most fans do not expect from him. For every Wes Welker-esque dive for the extra yard in traffic, you see another play of him putting his shoulder into a defender (usually a DB, but still).
But what about his stats? Surely the highlight film is just a small representation of what he does, and the stat sheet will tell you everything, right? Well, yes and no. At first glance, he looks like a regular player, not posting very impressive rushing stats, and putting up solid "3rd down back" receiving stats. Even his return stats are just decent, outside of a 2008 consisting of 3 TD's and 13.5 yards per return. But, looking at his scoring summary, you can see that he puts the ball in the end zone at a pretty consistent clip. 9 total TD's as a rookie, 6 in year 2, 9 in a 10-game 2008 campaign, and 8 on the 2009 Super Bowl champs. Only 1 TD in an injury-riddled 2010 season, but before that he's been a difference maker.
What Reggie Bush really does for a team goes beyond the highlights or the stat sheet, and this is what I really want to focus on in this post. How Reggie Bush affects a defensive gameplan.
- First off, he will immediately change a team's punting strategy. No longer will we see the booming punts down the middle of the field, allowing the coverage team to pin us deep. Teams will be punting towards the sideline or really high (resulting in shorter punts), which will give us better field position. And when he does get a chance to return one, he's a threat to take it to the house, and will most likely give us good field position. Reggie can be the difference between needing a 75 yard drive or a 60 yard drive for a touchdown.
- Bush forces a defense to change what they like to do. A blitz-happy defensive coordinator must be more careful, because a well-timed screen pass to Bush against the blitz will result in an almost guaranteed long TD. A defense that plays a high percentage of straight man coverage will have to play more nickel when Bush is in the game to avoid matching a LB on him. He gives you personnel advantages whether he's in the backfield or split wide, and he can pull the defensive focus from Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess.
- He forces a defense to account for his speed and cover the entire field. If the OLB's get too far inside, they'll get beat on a sweep, something that hasn't been a threat for us in the past. If the DL gets too aggressive in their pass rush, the screen goes over their head. And if the defense plays with too many small guys to defend Bush in the passing game, he's still a threat on the interior runs, especially if the OL can get to the second level.
- He gives a legitimate threat on safe plays. A lot of times, a team will play it safe on 3rd and long and run a draw play or a screen play. It's a low risk, high reward play that doesn't put you in danger of a turnover. With Bush, the reward is much higher, and more likely. Also, when a QB needs a safety valve (see: checkdown), which we used quite often last year, throwing it to Bush still gives you the chance for chunk yardage.
- Reggie gives us formation flexibility. This is something that offensive coordinators love, because it allows them to disguise what they are doing by lining up in multiple sets with the same personnel. It's why TE's like Dallas Clark, who can play in-line or split out into the slot, are so valuable. Defenses have to stick with a base personnel set, unsure of whether or not Bush will be in the backfield, in the slot, or split wide by himself. His presence can make the defense predictable, and the offense unpredictable. That's a recipe for success that New Orleans used on the way to their Championship, and it's the same recipe we can use for at least the next 2 seasons.