METAIRIE, La. -- Reggie Bush paced back and forth near a crowd of reporters after Thursday's practice, looking uncharacteristically eager to talk while he waited for coach Sean Payton to finish taking questions.
Maligned recently for his mistakes on the field and his avoidance of the media off of it, Bush calmly stepped in front of the microphones and opened up about his disappointment with himself.
"Nobody in this world has higher expectations than I do for myself, and the fact I haven't been as successful as I would have liked early on in my career has been a little tough to deal with," Bush said. "I can improve on running the ball. I can improve on pass-blocking. I can improve on catching the ball, route running ... securing the ball when I'm running the ball, not fumbling as much."
The Saints' fall-from-ahead loss at home in a crucial NFC South clash against Tampa Bay last Sunday was a low point for Bush in the former Heisman Trophy winner's second NFL season.
He isolated himself at the end of the bench after his misfired toss on a botched reverse set up the Buccaneers' winning touchdown in the final minutes, then avoided opportunities to comment on the fateful mistake both after the game and the following day at the team's training headquarters.
His own quarterback, Drew Brees, suggested that while Bush's athletic superiority was plain to see, the young running back was still "learning how to be a professional," and probably would have been better off if injured tailback Deuce McAllister was still around to mentor him.
Given a couple days off this week to digest his teammate's comments, Bush agreed.
"Any time you lose a guy like Deuce, you lose a lot. Deuce is a great player. He's a great leader. He's an even better person," Bush said. "He was a huge part of our offense last year and he was a huge reason why we were successful last year. (He and I) did a real good job of kind of being a one-two punch combination. ... So definitely, with his absence, you do lose something."
Bush, the Saints' featured running back since McAllister injured his knee in Week 3, has scored six touchdowns with 581 yards rushing and 417 yards receiving. His longest run so far has been 22 yards and his longest reception 25. He has dropped a handful of passes and fumbled eight times, though his team has recovered most of those.
He now has four weeks to make this season more memorable for his contributions than his flubs, starting Monday night in Atlanta.
Bush wants to be a leader, and said doing so means "staying positive ... not allowing your teammates to see you down, because obviously that has an effect on everyone else.
"It's easy to be a leader when everything's good," Bush said. "It's harder to be a leader when you have situations like this."
Bush went on to accept part of the blame for the turnover on the failed reverse, in which his toss to Devery Henderson appeared late and behind the receiver as they ran past each other. Henderson was unable to haul in the toss, giving the Bucs the ball on the Saints 37 with 3:30 to go. Payton blamed himself for a risky play call while the Saints sought to protect a 23-20 lead, but Bush said he "definitely had a huge part in why that play wasn't successful."
"To a certain degree, I do blame myself for it," Bush said. "The ball was in my hands and as a leader on this team, those are plays you've just got to make ... It was tough for me because I wasn't able to make a play and for so long in my life I'm always the guy who was Mr. Dependable. In that situation, I didn't hold up my end of the bargain."
Bush said he either should have been more careful to ensure Henderson got the exchange or not pitched the ball at all, since Henderson's path had been altered by a defensive lineman, throwing off the timing of the play.
Bush can only hope that won't be the moment when the Saints (5-7) ultimately blew their chance at the postseason in the mediocre NFC.
If the Saints do rally down the stretch, they won't do so by shunning their starting running back, Brees said.
"It's happened to the best of us," Brees said. "We trust Reggie Bush. As a young player, sometimes these things happen, and it's not when it happens, it's how you respond. All of us are just ready, very ready, to move on."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press