Reggie Bush shows he can handle full workload
MIAMI—Despite winning a Super Bowl ring in New Orleans, Reggie Bush came to Miami this summer with plenty to prove. He started slowly as the Dolphins dropped their first seven games, and a third consecutive losing season cost coach Tony Sparano his job.
Even so, by many measures this has become Bush's best year.
In Sunday's victory at Buffalo, Bush ran for a career-best 203 yards, which left him 27 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season. He also had a career-high 25 carries, further evidence to disprove skeptics who long questioned his toughness.
The Dolphins (5-9) face wholesale changes this offseason, but they're set for 2012 at running back, where Bush has showed he can handle a full load that includes running between the tackles.
"It definitely means a lot," he says. "It means that I'm doing everything that I expected I was going to be doing. This isn't so much me being surprised this happened. It's more the fact this is something I expected."
After five seasons with the Saints, Bush embraced the trade to Miami because it meant a chance to be an every-down back for the first time. He never carried more than 157 times in New Orleans, and his workload declined each of the past three years.
Bush says he understood why many doubted whether he was built for more than a part-time role.
"I'm 205 pounds on a good day," he says with a laugh. "I don't think any of the questions bother me. It was more the lack of opportunity that bothered me. I know what I can do when given the right opportunity.
"I understand the questions. I was hurt a few years and I wasn't getting a lot of touches and yards. Rightfully so, people should be questioning whether I can do it or not. But I know given the opportunity, I can show that I can be a good back."
Doubts persisted early this season, when the Dolphins were losing every week. Bush netted only 119 yards in the first four games and had a modest average of 3.0 yards per carry.
But they kept giving him the ball, and he began finding room to run. In the past 10 games he has rushed for 854 yards while averaging 5.5 per attempt.
He had only one 100-yard game with New Orleans but has reached the mark each of the past three weeks. His yardage at Buffalo exceeded his total for all of 2010.
"You talk about a spark plug for a team -- he's the guy," Miami quarterback Matt Moore says.
Bush has showed the same knack for big gains that helped him win the Heisman Trophy at Southern California and made him appealing to the Saints, who took him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 draft. His 32 runs of at least 10 yards are tied for fourth most in the NFL. His final carry Sunday resulted in the longest run, reception or return of his career, a 76-yard dash that ended with a snowy celebratory slide in the end zone.
Todd Bowles won in his first game as Miami's interim coach, a beneficiary of Bush's breakaways.
"Ever since I've been watching Reggie in college, he has made those kinds of plays," Bowles says. "He's making plays every time he's out there. The line was blocking for him, and Reggie did what Reggie does. It was fascinating to watch."
More surprising than Bush's big-play ability has been his durability. After missing 20 games in the past four seasons because of injuries, he has started all 14 games this year.
With two weeks left in Miami's season, Bush has 194 rushing attempts and 41 receptions, an average of nearly 17 touches per game. He's not exactly a workhorse, but he's a big reason the Dolphins have been much more productive since Halloween, averaging 25.6 points over the past seven games.
It's bittersweet validation for Sparano, who from the start of training camp defended the plan to give Bush a full load. Bush says they spoke after Sparano was fired last week.
"I told him that I really appreciate him for bringing me in and believing in me and giving me this opportunity," Bush says.
Despite the Dolphins' turnaround in the second half of the season, they're tied for last place in the AFC East. Bush helped the Saints win the Super Bowl to cap the 2009 season, and now he's on a team that will miss the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years.
"Obviously it's different," he says. "At the same time, I understand that success isn't built overnight. It takes times. I look forward to the future years here building a championship franchise. This is just part of the steppingstone, part of the journey we have to get there. But eventually we will get there."