Expect Reggie Bush to line up as the single back a lot. Expect him to be in motion a lot. Expect him to line up as a receiver a lot. And, as Schwartz said, expect him to play in a two-back set at times with either Bell or Leshoure. (John T. Greilick/Detroit News)
Allen Park — I sat at the breakfast table last week in Phoenix, listening to Lions coach Jim Schwartz talk about how running backs Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell will still have roles in the offense.
"People like to say running back by committee and things like that, but each guy will have a role," Schwartz said. "There will be plenty of touches on the offense for everybody."
Here's what I would say to that: If Leshoure's and Bell's roles aren't different this season, if they aren't significantly smaller than they were in 2012, then the signing of Reggie Bush isn't going to have the impact we all suspect it will.
Use it or lose it
Don't get me wrong, I understand you need at least three capable backs these days in the NFL. It's no longer a luxury, it's a necessity. The 49ers were so loaded at running back last season they could afford to keep LaMichael James inactive most of the season before he became a game-changer in the playoffs.
Green Bay seems to get down to its third and fourth back every year.
I get that Leshoure and Bell can provide more of a between-the-tackles element. I get that Bush can't be on the field for every snap. But if Leshoure and Bell combine for around 300 carries again this season, something will have gone wrong with Bush.
"We have 1,000 offensive plays," Schwartz said. "There are 1,000 touches in our offense every year. There's more than enough for everybody to get the football."
Let's examine that. The Lions threw the ball 740 times and ran it 391 times last season. The Lions will remain a passing offense. The addition of Bush doesn't change that, it only enhances it. Still, you can expect more balance between the run and the pass — maybe closer to a 60-40 split.
Bush averaged 14 carries a game the last two seasons in Miami — 216 in 2011 and 227 last season. He averaged 2.5 receptions in those two seasons. In his first two seasons in New Orleans, he averaged 11 carries and 5.7 catches per game.
The guess here is his splits in Detroit will be a combination of those two — close to 14 carries and six catches, about 20 touches per game. That would be the heaviest workload of his career.
"I don't know," Bush said when asked about his possible role in Detroit. "That's a question you've got to ask Coach Schwartz. But I definitely know I'll be out there on the football field a lot."
Schwartz, asked in Phoenix if Bush, at age 28, could still handle such a diverse and heavy workload, gave a resounding yes.
"It was a different dynamic with the Dolphins," Schwartz said. "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 didn't really use him in the passing game like they did in New Orleans. They asked him to be a running back 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 in mind and a fit. We think we have that for him here."
Adding a dimension
Expect Bush to line up as the single back a lot. Expect him to be in motion a lot. Expect him to line up as a receiver a lot. And, as Schwartz said, expect him to play in a two-back set at times with either Bell or Leshoure.
"It's really too early to be able to tell, but that is something we can do," Schwartz said. "A guy like Reggie Bush, you can align him as a wide receiver, you can keep two backs in the backfield with those guys, or you can put one back there and he can still run and try to get a matchup with a running back against a safety or a linebacker.
"It gives your offense a lot of different opportunities."
Bush will also give the team an added dimension in the red zone. Leshoure did a good job of converting inside the 5 last year (nine touchdowns), but his presence didn't alter how the defense covered Calvin Johnson.
If Bush is in the game, teams might think twice before they cover Johnson like a gunner on a punt team.
"You start running out of players on defense," Schwartz said. "If you want to double Calvin, then there's going to be light somewhere else. Somebody else will be single-covered."
So, to get back to the point, yes, Leshoure and Bell are part of the offensive mix, but let's not kid ourselves. We aren't talking about a running-back-by-committee approach. It's the Reggie Bush show. He needs to be on the field in all situations.