Being a leader isn’t for the faint of heart. For Reggie Bush, a veteran presence in the Detroit Lions locker room, trying to keep tough stretches on the football field from taking a mental toll is a daily battle.
Despite putting up solid numbers in his first season in Detroit (1,006 yards rushing and 506 yards receiving) in 2013, Bush had five fumbles, which he admits got to him at times.
"Maybe there were one or two games where I allowed the turnovers to affect me," Bush said in an interview with FOXSports.com. "I think there were times where I let some of those losses or fumbles kind of defeat me.
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"As a leader, you always want to be even keel. During the game, it’s important to stay positive."
Bush was far from the only member of the Lions who struggled at times in 2013. After the team roared into their bye week with a 5-3 record, things collapsed over the second half of the season and Detroit limped to a 7-9 finish and missed the playoffs. How did everything fall apart?
"We got complacent," Bush said. "We put it into cruise control a little bit and in the second half of the season in October and November you have to be playing your best football … the games get even tougher when everyone is starting to make a push to the playoffs."
The nine-year veteran says that second-half collapse was a disaster waiting to happen.
"Some of the things that we got away with in the first half of the season came back to haunt us."
Bush is referring specifically to turnovers. The Lions had a differential of minus-13 in 2013, which was ranked 29th in the league. Only the Jets, Giants and Texans were worse.
"I remember the game we played against the Cowboys (in Week 8), we had four turnovers, but we won the game. Everyone was excited and we went into the bye week, but we didn’t focus on the ugly side of it."
After beating the Bears in their first week back, the Lions went on to lose five of their next six games, which cost the team a shot at the postseason and cost head coach Jim Schwartz his job. But with a new season comes a new outlook and a new mental approach, spearheaded by new head coach Jim Caldwell.
While Schwartz was the prototypical fiery, spittle-flying emotional coach in the Parcells mold, Caldwell brings a much more reserved, cerebral approach. And the mood around the Lions facility, which was testy towards the end of 2013, has lightened and the place has become a "stress-free environment."
And Bush, who won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints in 2010, gives credit to Caldwell for fostering a winning environment in Detroit.
"He brings a championship mentality," said Bush, who is working with Mission Athletecare to promote their Cleat Grip product for athletes playing on rough surfaces. "Thinking, talking, walking and acting like a champion. It’s been really refreshing because every meeting he’s constantly finding ways to reiterate how to act and approach the game as a pro and a champion."
And he’s using multiple methods to spread that message, whether it’s through a certain movie, book or even a relevant quote. What’s more, he leads with that even-keel attitude that Bush covets as a team leader. There’s no yelling, screaming and histrionics. The man doesn’t even cuss.
That could be just what the doctor ordered for 2014 as Bush looks to keep building on the relationship that developed with fellow running back Joique Bell last season. The pair formed quite the "thunder and lightning" combination and became the first teammates in NFL history to each gain at least 500 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in a single season. Despite some bumps in the road — Bell had four fumbles of his own in 2013 – the combination of the two was formidable and a nightmare for defensive coordinators.
And while Bush is that speedy, elusive runner, he loves what Bell â a bigger, bruising back — brings to the table.
"He brings a lot of toughness. He’s not just a big running back that can run between the tackles, but he can also catch and he’s shifty as well. He’s a good player and it’s very refreshing to have a guy like that on my side and it’s been very fun and exciting playing with him."
Excitement isn’t the only thing that comes from playing alongside Bell. For Bush, it brings longevity. As a nine-year veteran at 29-years-old, he’s managed to last longer than many who play his position. Bush had 223 carries in 2013 while Bell had 166. And while some running backs bristle at the thought of sharing carries, Bush sees the value in it.
"It’s definitely put years on my career," he said. "The days of the running back getting 30-40 carries [per game] are long gone and now it’s more of a two-headed monster with guys who are able to mesh, play well together and be that 1-2 punch."
Playing together is an approach and a mindset that the Lions as a whole must take to heart. Nobody would question the talent on this Lions team. Just run down the roster and the names stand out: Stafford, Johnson, Suh, Fairley, Ansah, Tate. There are even new arrivals such as Eric Ebron, the stud tight end who came to Detroit via May’s NFL Draft.
But talent will take a team only so far. If these Lions are going to turn into an actual contender down the road, Bush knows what it will take.
"It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of patience. It’s going to take a lot of effort mentally and physically on behalf of the organization. Not just the players, but the coaches, the staff, the trainers, the strength coaches," Bush said.
"It takes everybody to be able to get to that next level and be able to win [a Super Bowl] because everybody has to play their part and their part well."