Bush the missing piece for Detroit's offense

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When Reggie Bush signed with the Detroit Lions in free agency this offseason, he was greeted with a piece of meat in his honor.


Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse in Birmingham, Mich., named its 22-ounce bone-in ribeye after the Lions' running back, an honor usually given to Detroit’s biggest stars.

It showed, almost immediately, the anticipation of Bush’s arrival in Detroit. In 2010, Detroit drafted Jahvid Best for a similar role to what Bush will have -- the do-everything running back who can catch a ton of passes underneath and run the ball with similar precision.

“Some of the things you’ve seen with Jahvid in the past (are) back in with Reggie,” Detroit offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “It’s a little different. Everyone has their own personality, a little bit different.

“He’s a guy who has performed very well in space and has throughout his career. I can see those being some of the things we do more of.”

Best’s story displays why there is hope in Detroit now, why Bush is being viewed as the difference for a franchise which had struggled since Best last played an NFL game against San Francisco on Oct. 16, 2011.

When the Lions drafted Best, Detroit already had an emerging quarterback in Matthew Stafford and a star wide receiver in Calvin Johnson. The catch-all running back could be the missing piece in a dynamic offense. Defenses would struggle to adequately cover all the weapons in Detroit's arsenal. For a little while, it worked, too.

Detroit went 6-10 in Best’s rookie year, including a four-game winning streak to end the season. Best did a bit of everything, leading the team in rushing with 555 yards and four touchdowns while catching 58 passes for 487 yards and two scores. The next season, when the Lions went 10-6 and made the playoffs, the Lions started off 5-0. Best had 390 yards rushing and 287 yards receiving.

The Lions, which to that point had not had a winning season since 2000 and went 0-16 in 2008, were actually winning. There was promise. Then Best suffered a concussion against the 49ers, his second of the season.

He never played again. The Lions made the playoffs that season -- finishing 10-6 before losing to New Orleans -- but the part of their offense which made it so dangerous was gone. The Lions floundered, going 9-19 since Best's injury. Last season, the Lions were 4-12.

Now comes Bush. The No. 2 pick in the 2006 NFL draft. The player who made his entire career on being a multi-purpose running back. In many ways, he's a better version of what the Lions had in Best. The bonus for Detroit: Unlike Best, Bush is proven in the NFL.

“Reggie can do a little bit of everything,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “That guy can line up and play receiver and be just as explosive as any receiver we’ve got. We can put him in the backfield and hand the ball off to him.

“As long as guys are getting their blocks on the perimeter, you’re going to see him running past safeties. He’s a splash offensive player, which means at any given moment he can make a huge splash and really change the complexity of the game.”

Defenses now have to account for a player going deep (Johnson), pass-catching tight ends and slot receivers over the middle and Bush, who can take a screen pass or a dump-off and score from anywhere. That’s not even mentioning he can run the ball well out of the backfield, gaining 4,162 yards in his first seven seasons.

Bush will take pressure off Stafford, who attempted 727 passes last season. This is, in many ways, the offense Detroit always imagined.

“He opens up a plethora of options,” Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen said.

Part of Detroit's pitch in free agency was how they would deploy Bush.

“From the first time when they recruited me here, they talked about getting me out in space and always moving around and running the ball and catching the ball out of the backfield,” Bush said. “Lining up at receiver, motioning, shifting, that’s everything that we are doing.

“That will help this team be effective, more effective, and that’s what I look forward to.”

The preseason hasn’t been the best gauge, because Johnson played in one game for two series, the offensive line was still forming, and Bush himself didn’t play a ton. But there’s a confidence around the Lions now. They have the guy their offense might have been missing all along. The guy everyone is interested to see.

“I’m interested, too,” Bush said. “I’m excited to be here and I feel like it’s going to be a fun ride.

“I look forward to the journey that we’re about to embark on.”