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Take what they give you

Saints' Bush comes to realize no shame in 2-yard gain

Posted: Friday August 10, 2007 11:06AM; Updated: Monday August 13, 2007 2:04PM
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Reggie Bush ran for 565 yards and had 742 receiving yards his rookie season with the Saints.
Reggie Bush ran for 565 yards and had 742 receiving yards his rookie season with the Saints.

JACKSON, Miss. -- You had to hear Drew Brees out to get his drift. When I asked him his favorite of all the dazzling moments Reggie Bush gave us as a rookie in 2006, it wasn't the improvisational bent of his cut-back runs, the swing passes turned into game-swinging plays or the punt returns that flashed all that other-worldly speed and change of direction that Brees recalled.

The Saints quarterback was right there for all of them, but the spectacular wasn't what he wanted to talk about. It was the duller, more mundane stuff that caught his eye. The 2-yard gain that earlier in the season almost certainly would have been a 2-yard loss. The off-tackle run Bush started making with authority as the schedule reached December. All those little turn-the-corner details that seem to separate the runners from the NFL running backs.

That's what gives Brees the best feeling about year two of the Bush era in New Orleans, and where it might lead to even loftier things for a Saints offense ranked first overall last season. Bush isn't the game's most exciting rookie any more. And that's the good news.

"Reggie has definitely elevated his game,'' Brees told me Tuesday, finding a little shade after a brutally hot morning practice at the Saints' Millsaps College training camp base. "He's becoming a better player by the day; by the minute. Obviously he's as athletically talented as any guy you'll ever see, but I think he's truly becoming more of an NFL running back. He's hitting the hole, and he's putting his head down and getting that two yards. And he's understanding that that's good, that's OK. A 2-yard gain sometimes is everything you could have made out of that play.

"As opposed to, 'Hey, let me cut this thing back and dance and lose 2 yards.' He's truly understanding that, and I think that's the biggest thing for a young [runner], to just gain that patience. The patience to understand that there are great athletes on the other side of the ball, too, and at times you just have to chip away, chip away, chip away, and don't force the big play. And then take your shot when the opportunity comes.''

Bush made his share of big plays last season. His 88 receptions set a league rookie running back record, and he was the only NFL player in 2006 to score a touchdown rushing, receiving and on a punt return. His memorable 88-yard scoring catch-and-run in the playoff game at Chicago was the longest play in NFC Championship Game history. But in an indication of his biggest rookie-season weakness, he was also third-worst among NFL running backs in rushes for one-yard or less, with 38 percent of his 155 carries falling into that drive-killing category.

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