"Reggie is a guy we need to make teams pay," Lions coach Jim Schwartz, right, said of running back Reggie Bush, left. (John T. Greilick/Detroit News)
Phoenix — Lions coach Jim Schwartz joked at the start of his press breakfast Wednesday that to keep the cameras off of him, he was going to take a page from Tigers manager Jim Leyland and talk with his mouth full.
Mercifully, Schwartz didn't do that. He did, though, break off a nice baseball analogy to explain the impact running back Reggie Bush can have on how teams defend receiver Calvin Johnson. He compared it to what Prince Fielder does for Miguel Cabrera in the Tigers' lineup.
"If the Tigers had Cabrera and they had Schwartz batting behind Cabrera, how many intentional walks would Cabrera get?" Schwartz said. "A lot. I might be able to move the runner over. I might be able to hit behind the runner. I might be able to foul one off. I might be able to bloop one over the first baseman's head. But I can't clean the bases. That's my skill set.
"Reggie Bush can clear the bases."
Most teams played deep, cover-two shells against the Lions last season, taking away the deep passes to Johnson. They used soft boxes up front, giving up plenty of space within 5 to 10 yards off the tackle box.
Try as they might, neither Mikel Leshoure nor Joique Bell could exploit that enough to alter the coverage.
"This dynamic of a wide receiver and what defenses do to stop him, it opens up opportunities for the other receivers and opportunities for tight ends, but it uniquely opens up opportunities for an explosive running back — not just a guy to get 5 or 6 yards, but a guy who can really make you pay," Schwartz said. "Reggie is a guy we need to make teams pay when they choose to play us that way."
The Lions had this antidote to two-deep shells when Jahvid Best was healthy. In nine games that Best, Johnson and quarterback Matthew Stafford played together from 2010-2011, the Lions either won or were leading when one of those players left the game. They were 6-0 in the games all three finished.
In the six wins, Best had a total of 111 touches, 667 yards and three touchdowns. He had nine plays of 30 or more yards.
"We were last in the NFL in plus-20-yard runs last year and Reggie has to be part of the antidote to that," Schwartz said.
Bush is 28, and though he's coming off two of his best rushing seasons of his career, he wasn't the pass-catching threat he was earlier in his career in New Orleans. Schwartz was asked if he worried Bush was in decline.
"It was a different dynamic with the Dolphins," Schwartz said. "Go watch the film. He ran against a lot of hard, eight-man boxes and he did a good job of it. He was a very capable running back. They asked him to be a running back and that's what he did and he did it well.
"We looked at him over the course of the season and we still think he's explosive. He didn't look a whole lot different there than he did when he was in New Orleans. It's a matter of having a role and a fit and we think we have that. I don't see a declining player."
Bush was signed to be the featured back in the Lions' offense; no doubt about that. But Schwartz assured there was still a role for both Leshoure and Bell.
"We have 1,000 offensive plays, 1,000 touches in our offense every year," he said. "There's more than enough for everybody to get the football. And you are going to need it.
"We have a lot of confidence in those guys. They all have unique skill sets. Joique runs differently than Mikel and both present different things than Reggie. The combinations are good. Each guy will have a role; plenty of opportunity for everybody."
Schwartz was also asked if Bush could return punts:
"Yes. I am not a man of a few words, but, yes."