Bush burning to return to action

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -Reggie Bush wasn't aware that there isn't one New Orleans Saints player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When he found out Tuesday, he paused for a moment.

"Hopefully," he said, "we can get some in there."

This weekend, the Saints head to Canton, Ohio, to open the NFL season in the Hall of Fame game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bush intends to check out exhibits covering some of the running backs enshrined there now, notably Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Gale Sayers.

Bush readily declares that he expects to be recognized alongside them one day. And while it's far too early to say whether he'll succeed, his coaches, teammates and fans are energized by the prospect of Bush building on his highlight-filled rookie season.

"It's hard to miss the excitement that's around him," Saints linebacker Scott Fujita said. "Everywhere I go, the first thing people ask me is: 'Do you know Reggie Bush? ... Are you friends with him? Do you hang out with him? Can you get me his autograph?' That's all they talk about.

The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner and second overall draft choice in 2006 needed nearly half a season to adjust to the speed and complexity of the NFL. Bush didn't score his first offensive touchdown until his ninth game. He scored nine touchdowns in his last seven games, the last a zigzagging, 88-yard reception, topped off by a somersault over the goal line, in the NFC championship game at Chicago.

During the past two days of practice, as the Saints' offense worked on plays from inside the 20-yard line, Bush had a knack for making himself the best option for whichever quarterback was taking the snaps. In one instance, he darted out of the backfield, cut into an opening between linebackers, snagged a quick pass and danced around an onrushing tackler before diving across the goal line as more defenders closed in.

"What I love is that when we get down to that end, Reggie smells it," quarterback Drew Brees said. "It's like he kicks it into another gear. ... He starts flying into that hole in the end zone."

Bush said he hesitated often during the first half of his rookie season or tried to do too much. In such instances, he was usually gang-tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Head coach Sean Payton found Bush to be most effective on runs outside, screen passes, or short passes with Bush lined up in the slot as a receiver. He wanted to get Bush into open space and let him use his speed and elusiveness.

Bush also fielded punts part-time, returning one for a game-winning touchdown.

This summer, Bush is practicing both punt and kickoff returns and also has lined up as a wide receiver. Payton said he may run Bush inside more.

"I don't like to be limited to outside, inside or returning punts or kicks," Bush said. "I like to do it all."

Payton said Bush won't return kicks full-time this season, in part because he does not want to over expose Bush to injury, tire him out or give him too much to think about.

"I'm obviously not going to be the starting kick returner or the regular kick returner - only in situations where (Payton) might need a big play," Bush said. "We spoke about that. He's all for it and I don't see why not."

Payton said he also will seek to re-establish the nearly even balance of plays designed for Bush and Deuce McAllister. Both exceeded 1,200 total yards on offense last season, keeping defenses guessing and both running backs fresh.

Bush said he felt stronger as his rookie year wore on.

"It's a tribute to having Deuce there and us kind of taking the pressure off each other and kind of saving our legs," Bush said. "Being able to share that time, it definitely helped us out both. We learned to adjust to it and use it to our advantage."

There were some questions as to whether Bush might have worn himself out with off-the-field activities over the winter. Making his offseason home in Los Angeles, Bush wound up in the tabloids periodically, shown partying with celebrities. He was in a music video. He missed some voluntary offseason workouts at Saints headquarters while filming commercials for eight national advertising campaigns, including one in Spain with soccer star David Beckham.

Bush insisted that he remained committed foremost to football. He experimented with a new, Asian-inspired workout regimen called fre flo do (pronounced free flow doe), which he said helped him develop his already excellent speed and agility.

"We were out at a party on a Tuesday night and he was talking about a workout the next morning," said Fujita, who also lives in California during the offseason. "I'm saying, go ahead, man, I'm taking this day off for crying out loud. But that's the kind of guy he is - all that talent and to have that kind of work ethic. To me, that's encouraging."

In his usual soft-spoken tone, Bush calmly and confidently talks of his desire to gain many more yards and score many more touchdowns this season, but stops short of listing any specific benchmarks, other than one.

"Winning the Super Bowl," Bush said. "I never set any personal goals. I've never been big on them. All I want to do is to win championships and that's it. I think people are remembered by their legacy, and that's why."

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