A case for pursuing Reggie Bush

Happy Friday, friends.  I’ve been moving over the last three days and have had really minimal time to write lately.  So you don’t forget about me, I decided to balance my ongoing time constraints with writing briefly today about something that I’ve been thinking about.  I think that when free agency starts, the Broncos should consider proactively trying to sign Reggie Bush.  He’s technically still under contract with the Saints, but it’s pretty clear that New Orleans isn’t going to pay $11.8 million for a part-time player, so everybody expects Bush will be free before long.

I know Reggie isn’t everybody’s glass of vodka, and I think there are some things about him that are troubling.  His stupid tweet last week about how great the lockout is showed an obliviousness to his world and how he fits in it, and the whole dating-a-Kardashian business is a red flag.  I’d hate to see the guy as a regular on a stupid reality show like Lamar Odom.  He also pretty clearly took some improper benefits in college, and embarrassingly had to vacate the 2005 Heisman Trophy.

Then there will be the stat people, who’ll say, well, Reggie’s career high in rushing yards is 581 in his second season, and he hasn’t even been over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in any season except for his rookie one.  These are good points.  That 2006 rookie season was also the only one where Bush ever played in all 16 games.  It’s reasonable at this point to question the guy’s durability.  I’m almost starting to talk myself out of this before I even make the case, because of all these “red flags."

Okay, no I’m not.  Reggie Bush is a really unique player, and statistics don’t adequately capture his value.  The Saints don’t want to pay Bush $11.8 million, but they do badly want him to be back next season.  You’d think that they’d be tired of his low-stat, questionable-durability, Heisman-disavowing ways if you didn’t recognize the matchup nightmare that the guy represents.

We’ve talked a lot on this site about personnel groupings, and how the group of people that the offense sends onto the field often dictates the group of players that the defense sends on to the field.  If I send out 11 personnel, with 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WR, that generally is going to tell the defense to swap out a LB for a CB.  The defense feels like it has the appropriate speed and skill-sets to match the offensive group.  If that RB is Reggie Bush, the defense doesn’t feel so good about it.  If you’re in a man-to-man call, and you’ve got CBs on each of the three WRs, who is going to take Bush in the pass pattern?  Is a LB or a Safety going to be able to run with him?

That forces a defense to consider treating Bush like a WR, in terms of personnel matching.  I talked about this last year, with Dexter McCluster of the Chiefs, and how he needs to be accounted for like a WR.  The difference between Bush and McCluster is that Bush is quite a bit bigger, and more capable of running through a CB’s arm tackles than McCluster is.  (Bush is also significantly more dynamic in the open field, for the record.)

On 1st and 10, if Bush, Richard Quinn, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, and Eddie Royal gets me dime personnel, I think that sounds like a great time to run the football.  I like the sound of a college-style zone-read play from the shotgun with Tim Tebow and Bush in a situation like that, where the defense is asking four CBs to tackle either Bush or Tebow, once they figure out who has the ball.  Hell, I’m fine with just pitching Bush the ball around the edge and letting him make a play against sub-package personnel.

In any passing situation, with Bush on the field, defenses have to account for him.  Letting this guy get the ball with five yards of cushion between him and the nearest defender is going to end very badly, so defenses are practically forced into playing Cover-2, especially if they don’t want to play dime.  Not only that, the nearby LBs and CBs are going to press their drops as close to Bush as possible, and that’s going to open up the second level of the zone really nicely for the WR in the area.

Picture this:  Bush is on the field with the same 11 personnel and a nickel package on defense, and the defensive coordinator calls Cover-2.  Gaffney and Royal are left and Quinn is tight right, with Lloyd out wide.  Bush motions to empty the backfield, ending up slightly wide of Lloyd at the snap.  The motion causes the LCB to widen out and forego getting much of a jam on Lloyd, like solid Cover-2 requires.  Bush starts his route to the outside and comes back inside at about five yards of depth.  The CB already missed the jam and is now out of the play.  The Sam LB is too shallow in his drop because he’s worried about Bush at five yards.  Lloyd releases untouched, and Tebow can hit him on the run 15 yards downfield, pressing the seam.

The Saints have been doing that now for five years.  A lot of balls that Marques Colston has caught have been because the presence of Bush has done a lot to get him open.  Sean Payton is a really smart schemer in the passing game, and Bush has been used really well in the overall structure.  Even beyond the ~100 carries and ~50 catches that you can get from Bush, you get a feared weapon who demands attention on every play.  You also get an elite punt returner who scored three TDs in 2008.

A lot of people would like to see the Broncos sign DeAngelo Williams, but I think that the $10 million/year that it would take would be a misallocation of resources.  Knowshon Moreno is already on the team, and I think that with a second year being coached by Eric Studesville, he’s going to really come into his own.  He showed a lot of flashes in the second half of last year, and with some more improvement, good health, and stronger offensive line play, I think he’s ready to be effective as the number-one guy.  I like LenDale White more than most (as a backup type), and I think there is still some usefulness to Correll Buckhalter if somebody gets hurt.

Bush would be a nice fourth piece of that puzzle, and while I wouldn’t pay him $11.8 million, I’d give him half of that and be happy about it.  Then you could use the other $4 million from the DeAngelo Williams non-signing and put it toward locking up Marcus Thomas long-term.  (I think he’s going to have a big year in 2011 going back to DT in an even front.)  When he’s healthy and used intelligently, Reggie Bush is the kind of player who can make a good offense next to unstoppable, even if it’s a little bit difficult to sometimes see exactly where his contributions are happening.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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