FOXBOROUGH — While rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been the focal point of Miami’s offense this season, Bill Belichick said running back Reggie Bush, a dual threat, was not to be overlooked when the Patriots face the Dolphins Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
“Absolutely, he’s a dynamic player,’’ Belichick said of Bush, who is Miami’s leading rusher with 662 yards and fourth-leading receiver with 24 receptions for 189 yards.
“I think you have to know wherever he is when he’s on the field. He could be in the backfield, they could hand him the ball, they could throw him the ball, and he can get it in a lot of different ways. He has good strength for his size [6 feet, 203 pounds]. He has great quickness. He’s got great speed.
“He can run through tackles, he can run around people. It’s similar to [C.J.] Spiller [of Buffalo], that type of player — very hard to match up with in coverage. He’s a tough guy to defend.
“You have to have an awareness of him. He can take the ball on any play, be it a checkdown or a handoff or a screen or anything, and go 60, 70 yards. You make a mistake on him, he’ll make you pay for it.”
In short, Bush is the type of home run hitter that has given the Patriots fits this season.
“This guy, he can get you anywhere on the field — in the pass game and the running game,’’ said nose tackle Vince Wilfork. “Being able to reverse field, you’ve seen him and we all have seen him make plays for his ball club. We all know how special this guy is.’’
Said linebacker Jerod Mayo, “It’ll take 11 men to the football, hopefully to get him down.’’
Bush’s longest run from scrimmage this season was a 65-yard touchdown in a 35-13 victory over the Raiders Sept. 16, the Dolphins’ second game under new coach Joe Philbin.
“Well this is a player’s game, no question about it,’’ said Philbin, when asked what it meant to inherit a playmaker such as Bush. “I mean, the coach is important, but none of us would be employed if it wasn’t for the players.
“We’re certainly fortunate when you have a guy like Reggie Bush.”
Last Sunday’s 24-21 victory over the Seahawks marked the first fourth-quarter comeback of Tannehill’s 11-game NFL career.
“It definitely helps build some confidence whenever you get real game reps, real live game reps, and you’re able to have some success and drive the team and win the game,’’ said Tannehill, who rallied the Dolphins for 17 fourth-quarter points, including a 43-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter that capped a seven-play, 65-yard drive that began at the Dolphins’ 10 with 1:32 left.
“I think, as an offense, we’ve had that situation throughout this year, several times in practice,’’ Tannehill said. “To finally put it to work and make it work out in a game, it’s really satisfying and it’s something we can build off of.’’
While Tom Brady has had 35 fourth-quarter comebacks, Tannehill does have one thing over his much-heralded Patriots counterpart: Brady did not have one in his rookie season.
“Tom is such a great player and has been such a great player for a long time,’’ Tannehill marveled. “Hopefully, we can continue to build on that and I can continue to build on what happened last week.”
The Patriots offensive line was bolstered by the return of right guard Dan Connolly (back) and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee) to practice. They were among 14 Patriots who participated in a limited capacity.
Vollmer sat out the Thanksgiving night win over the Jets and also missed Wednesday’s practice in full pads. Connolly played against the Jets, but also missed practice Wednesday before making his return for Thursday’s workout in sweats and shells.
Four players did not practice: left guard Logan Mankins (ankle/calf), guard Markus Zusevics (illness), tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm), and defensive end Chandler Jones (ankle).
Miami running back Jorvorskie Lane, who did not practice Wednesday, returned to the practice field Thursday and was one of three Dolphins players listed as limited, along with tight end Anthony Fasano (hip) and linebacker Austin Spitler (ankle).
During a conference call Wednesday, Tannehill made a case for his successor at Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel, winning the Heisman Trophy.
“Look at the numbers, look at the numbers,’’ said Tannehill, referring to the gaudy statistics the freshman from Kerrville, Texas, has compiled in the Aggies’ first season in the Southeastern Conference: 3,419 yards passing, 24 touchdown passes, 8 interceptions, 1,181 yards rushing, 19 rushing touchdowns.
“The numbers he’s put up are outstanding,’’ Tannehill said. “He’s surpassed Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, who both won the Heisman in the years that they set the SEC record for yards in a season. That alone, plus the fact the game-changing plays he can make, the electrifying plays when he’s running around and making people miss.’’
Then there was a stunning 29-24 upset of top-ranked Alabama on the road.
“He has led his team to [a 10-2 record] in their first year in the SEC,’’ Tannehill said. “So, 10 victories in the SEC for the first year, when no one really knew what to expect from A&M, you’ve got to give him a lot of credit for that.’’