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Bush in honeymoon mode with Dolphins
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.
As former girlfriend Kim Kardashian prepared for her gala wedding weekend, Reggie Bush was having his own kind of rehearsal dinner with a new partner.
The Miami Dolphins can only hope their union with Bush is a marriage made in heaven.
Bush is the kind of NFL trophy wife the Dolphins have lacked — a running back with game-breaking speed and charisma to re-engage a dispirited fan base. He began doing that Friday night in his Dolphins preseason debut against the Carolina Panthers.
Bush’s performance — 81 total yards on 10 touches (eight rushes, two receptions) — invoked “Reg-gie!” chants from a Sun Life Stadium crowd that he noted was “dead” at the opening kickoff.
“It never gets old,” a smiling Bush said afterward.
Bush invoked that same kind of passion for six seasons in New Orleans. But his relationship with the franchise ended in divorce. The New Orleans Saints felt Bush wasn’t worth his $11 million base salary for the 2011 season. After he agreed to a restricted contract, Bush was traded to Miami for an undisclosed draft pick and backup safety Jon Amaya.
As integral as he was to New Orleans’ success — Bush drew special attention from opposing defenses because he could create coverage mismatches against linebackers and safeties — there was surprisingly little brouhaha from Saints players about his departure. Saints management believes free-agent replacement Darren Sproles will be at least comparable and potentially more productive in some ways than the injury plagued Bush, who hasn’t completed a full 16-game season since his rookie campaign in 2006. Holdover Pierre Thomas and 2011 first-round draft pick Mark Ingram will carry the heavy rushing load.
Though he hasn’t leveled direct criticism at the Saints, it’s obvious Bush feels his skills weren’t fully utilized as a bell-cow back in New Orleans. Asked about the hard-charging style he displayed between the tackles against Carolina, Bush said: “It’s always been me. I think, for different reasons in the past, I got away from it because I know in my mind I was only going to be able to run the ball three or four times a game. I kind of got away from the element of who I am — that’s being aggressive and attacking.”
Bush won’t be asked to carry Miami’s entire rushing load like the last running back New Orleans traded to Miami, Ricky Williams. And don’t expect Bush to wear a wedding dress for a photo shoot, either, a la Williams.
Bush, though, is doing his part to convince the Dolphins staff he can handle meat-and-potato carries as well as the receiving and return roles that made him a multipurpose threat in New Orleans. Not only is he healthy, Bush usually has been the last player to leave Miami’s practice field after post-session work that includes receiving drills, pulling a sled or running sprints while wearing a weighted vest.
“We’ve always known he’s a great player, but his work ethic and leadership has been kind of a surprise to me,” Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano said Friday after Miami’s 20-10 win over Carolina. “It’s infectious for the younger guys in the room and throughout the offense. There are things that everyone can see, but it’s also doing things the right way and things he’s not always asked to do. He’s a true professional.”
One could joke that Bush was a true professional at Southern California with the payola he and his family received that ultimately led to NCAA sanctions against the university and the 2010 stripping of his Heisman Trophy. That drew the same kind of unwanted media attention last year as his breakup with Kardashian. He played in only eight games and finished with career single-season lows in every significant statistical category.
Joining the Dolphins gives Bush a chance to start anew. The 26-year-old also is mature enough now to share some of the football lessons he has learned. Bush is serving as a mentor to 2011 second-round draft pick Daniel Thomas in the same fashion that beloved Saints running back Deuce McAllister once did for him. Bush also has taken a page from Saints quarterback Drew Brees by preaching to Dolphins teammates about keeping a steady workout routine and bringing intensity to every practice.
“You’ve got to find a way to compete every day,” Bush said.
The Dolphins haven’t competed in a Super Bowl since 1984 or won a playoff game in a decade. The doom and gloom surrounding this year’s squad — especially erratic quarterback Chad Henne — has resulted in major ticket-sale drops and clouded the future of head coach Tony Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland.
Bush can’t fix everything wrong with the unit. Henne must become comfortable with a new offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll), reduce his turnovers, hit more deep passes and build a better professional relationship with wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who is trying to overcome his own admitted battle with depression. The offensive line is suspect, as well.
If he thought such problems were insurmountable, Bush could have stiffed Miami at the altar and scuttled the trade by refusing to restructure his contract. Bush, though, was willing to take the plunge.
“Some of the guys here know some things I’ve done in my career and whatever,” he said. “But you come in here and earn respect with these guys and not just play off on some of the things I did in the past. I don’t think that matters now.”