Skip to main content

Bush, healthy again, pledges improvement

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -Reggie Bush found a shady seat against a pale stucco wall in Florence, Italy.

Kim Kardashian, a Los Angeles socialite and TV personality, rested on the running back's lap.

And, of course, the paparazzi were there to photograph the moment from the pair's June vacation for a celebrity-obsessed world.

Bush's fame has continued to grow since he left Southern California to turn pro following his Heisman Trophy-winning junior season.

But his rising global profile may stem more from his appearances in things like a music video, a commercial with David Beckham and Kardashian's reality show than from his production on the football field with the New Orleans Saints.

"I definitely feel like I have something to prove this year, more so than the maybe the past two years, just because I didn't have a great season last year," Bush said after a recent practice at Saints training camp. "My first season was OK, but I'm ready to prove I'm one of those elite running backs year in and year out."

Bush's 2007 numbers were decent, but far from spectacular. He had six touchdowns, 581 yards rushing and 417 yards receiving in 12 games, then missed the rest of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. His longest run was 22 yards and his longest reception was 25.

The spectacular game-breaking plays Bush has said he expects of himself never came, unlike the mistakes he hoped to avoid.

He was fortunate the Saints recovered most of his eight fumbles, including a punt that bounced away from him after hitting off his facemask during a win over Jacksonville.

He lost a fumble at the Houston 1-yard line in a loss to the Texans and botched a toss to Devery Henderson on a reverse while the Saints were trying to protect a 23-20 lead in the final minutes of a loss to Tampa Bay.

When he plays well, the results are often memorable. The highlights of his rookie season included a game-winning, 55-yard punt return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay and a screen pass that he turned into a weaving, 61-yard score at Dallas.

With Deuce McAllister injured last season, Bush found himself in a different role than he played as a rookie. Bush became the featured back, called upon to plunge into the line more than drifting wide on screen passes, lining up as a slot receiver or returning punts.

If McAllister's comeback from a second knee surgery in three seasons succeeds, Bush could return to the role that seemed to suit him so well in 2006. He has said he hopes to become a more frequent punt returner this season, surpass 1,000 yards receiving and rushing and make the Pro Bowl.

"If we are able to get back to what we were able to do my first year, two years ago, I think we are going to be unstoppable," Bush said. "I definitely think I am going to be better this year, this is my third year and just having that experience under my belt, I definitely think it's going to help me out a lot."

The addition of four-time Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey also will make it tougher for defenses to focus too much on Bush. For one, safeties will know Shockey could make them pay dearly for sneaking up to stop the run.

"He helps out a lot, both in the passing game and the running game," Bush said. "You can always use a guy like Shockey, a guy who is going to perform and give you that edge."

During a recent practice, the mismatch problems Bush creates were evident as he accelerated deep down the middle of the field, trailed only by linebacker Mark Simoneau, who had no chance to keep up as Bush caught a long pass from Drew Brees and raced toward enamored fans, many of them wearing Bush's No. 25, in the stands behind the end zone.

Bush's quest to improve began with a change in his approach to the offseason.

After the 2006 season, he worked out on his own in California - taking up Asian-inspired training called fre flo do (pronounced, free flow doe), rather than attend voluntary workouts with the Saints.

This past offseason, Bush worked out at Saints headquarters in suburban New Orleans, a change that pleased coach Sean Payton.

"He's someone that is very competitive and wants to please and can take coaching and wants to improve," Payton said. "All those things have been positive and I expect him to play well this year. ... This offseason has been a good one for him."

Staying in New Orleans also allowed Bush draw a little inspiration from his friend and neighbor, Chris Paul, as he watched him lead the NBA's Hornets to their best season ever.

Bush said he recognizes that he and Paul lead somewhat parallel lives as the most popular young stars on their respective pro teams in New Orleans, and that he would like to keep pace.

Paul spent his third pro season earning his first All-Star selection and becoming the unquestioned leader of a playoff team with a seemingly bright future, then was picked to play for Team USA at the Beijing Olympics.

By the time Paul returns from China, sports fans in the New Orleans area will be increasingly turning their attention to the Saints, eager to see if Bush's third season as a pro can be a special one as well.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.