March 14, 2013 at 1:58 pm

John Niyo

Bush gives Lions offense an added dimension - and no more excuses

With running back Reggie Bush in the fold, the Lions offense improves considerably. (John T. Greilick/Detroit News)

Allen Park — It appears to be an addiction, sure.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz once — jokingly, he swears — likened his own obsession with Jahvid Best's highlight films to others' watching porn.

And it was with great satisfaction that Schwartz and his offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan, celebrated the team's 2010 draft-day trade to acquire the dynamic running back out of California. At the time, Schwartz even recalled a dinner conversation with Linehan from months earlier, "He said, 'Man, what I would do for a running back like that. That guy is everything we're looking for.'"

Of course, 18 months later, Best's career was effectively over and the Lions — along with their long-suffering fans — found themselves looking for another fix.

Wednesday, the team happily announced it'd found it, introducing newly signed running back Reggie Bush, the No. 1 target for the Lions and arguably the biggest free-agent signing they've made since … well, I'm not sure, but it's been awhile. (Damien Woody? James Stewart? Scott Mitchell?)

You can feel free to argue that last part. And many certainly are debating the merits of the first part, as the Lions targeted a running back ahead of some other needs, though admittedly the secondary got a huge boost with safety Glover Quin joining Chris Houston and perhaps Louis Delmas, as well.

But there's no denying this point: With Bush signed, the Lions have to do more than just tease their fans with highlights this time.

"I'm excited," veteran receiver Nate Burleson said in a phone interview Wednesday after the deal was made official. "I tell people all the time it's not about how big a splash you make in free agency, it's about the fit — and we made both. … He's going to make us better."

Surely, he will, though I think Bill Polian, the longtime NFL personnel executive who now works for ESPN, went a bit overboard with some of his praise Wednesday. Polian, who earlier in the week had downplayed Bush's value in free agency, raved about the Lions' signing, saying, "What it tells you is they're going to be 'The Greatest Show on Turf.' Think Marshall Faulk, because that's the kind of back he really is."

Really now, that's a bit much, comparing Bush to a Hall of Famer like Faulk. But he is the kind of back the Lions coveted: A player who dictates matchups, then wins them.

"You're talking about a guy who's been the best player on his team almost his whole life," Burleson said. "He brings an added dimension. He's very versatile. The last couple years he's shown different aspects to his game."

Indeed, Bush surprised many by thriving as the lead dog in Miami the last two years, averaging 4.7 yards per carry with an increased workload and proving that he can be a special back, not just a specialty back. His Dolphins teammates also praised him for his work ethic and viewed him as a leader, something that wasn't said about him earlier in his career in New Orleans.

A 'tremendous' option

In Detroit, the 28-year-old Bush won't have to be the best player on his team, lining up behind Matthew Stafford and alongside Calvin Johnson. (He won't be grossly overpaid, either, after signing a reasonable four-year, $16 million deal.) But he will be asked to take advantage of that, enjoying a luxury he didn't have last season playing for the Dolphins after they'd traded away Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall.

"Oh, it's a running back's dream," Bush said. "It's the first thing we talked about here. You know, when we're watching film and we see those safeties deep and rolling over, double covering Calvin Johnson, it's a running back's dream."

Stafford, who went out to dinner with Bush on Tuesday night as part of the Lions sales pitch, undoubtedly feels the same way. In a statement released by the team Wednesday, the young Lions quarterback called his new backfield mate a "proven commodity" that "gives our offense some tremendous options."

But here's the flipside to that: This Bush signing also gives them no more room for excuses. It puts the pressure on Linehan — and Stafford — to prove last year's struggles really were tied to personnel issues more than personal failures.

Look, I won't argue — at least not the way others do — with this team's philosophy about building around a franchise quarterback, investing a handful of high draft picks on offensive skill players the past few years, not to mention the money spent on Johnson and Burleson.

"The way I look at it, when you've got a quarterback like Matthew Stafford, you want to keep giving him weapons," Mayhew reiterated earlier this winter. "And that's what we're going to try to keep doing."

But I will say this: Signing Bush better not be one of the highlights of his Lions career when it's over. Winning with him is the only thing that's going to leave everyone feeling satisfied in the end.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

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