June 13, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Reggie Bush's star power can push the Lions

Allen Park — The Lions desperately wanted Reggie Bush, and you understand why. He lines up at running back. He lines up in the slot. He goes in motion and every set of eyes that follows him is a set that, theoretically, won’t follow Calvin Johnson.

It makes sense, it really does. Bush has become a vital part of the offense before even playing a down, and if theory transfers to reality, the Lions could be back to busting big plays. But “theory” can be a dirty word around here, and there’s some risk in banking on the veteran Bush, just as there was risk in banking on undersized Jahvid Best.

The Lions have the quarterback and superstar receiver to make this work, but the truth is, it’s mostly on Bush. And he sounds like he’s eager to prove he’s more than some think he is.

“I just want to be a complete back, and I definitely want to show I can be an every-down back,” Bush said Wednesday. “That was one thing I wanted to prove to myself and to people, that I can do it all and wasn’t just a utility back, so to speak.”

The Lions afforded him the best opportunity. While they rebuild their offensive line and retool their defense, they again need a speedy game-breaker to counter their weaknesses. They’re looking for their own Bush Push, for the piece that’s been missing since Best was sidelined, probably for good, with concussions.

Bush, 28, was the No. 1 free-agent target for the Lions, and it’s important to recognize why. It’s not that Johnson and Matthew Stafford required more help than the defense. It’s that in Motown terms, if you spend big money on a fast car, you don’t run it with a clogged fuel pump.

When Bush planted his feet and slightly twisted an ankle during minicamp Wednesday, there were a few nervous Lions, although he was fine. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan hopes he has an answer for the Calvin Antidote so many defenses employ. Last season, Johnson got his yards (1,964) but not his touchdowns (five), and with defenders sitting back and blanketing him, virtually no one else broke big plays.

Lots of empty yards

Bush said there’s “no excuse” for the Lions not to have a top-three offense, but the fact is, they were third last season in yards and 17th in points. That essentially made them first in empty yards.

It will help to have receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles healthy. It would help if running back Mikel Leshoure delivered consistent production. And it would really help if Bush has magic left in his legs. Full disclosure here, I was skeptical of the signing because of the mileage on Bush, who’s entering his eighth season. But like I said, I see why the Lions considered it essential.

“I think Reggie’s definitely going to add a dynamic to our offense,” Linehan said. “A lot like what we got with Jahvid, he definitely gives us a guy that can be an effective rusher and receiver.”

When Best went bust (because of injury), the offense burst a bit. In 2011, the Lions were 5-0, and Best had just run for 163 yards against the Bears. He was injured the next game, and since then, the Lions are 9-19.

Bush’s versatile skill set would seem to fit the Lions best (and fit the Lions’ Best). He ran for 986 and 1,086 yards the past two seasons with the Dolphins, and caught 35 and 43 passes. His best season probably came as a rookie with the Saints, when he ran for 565 yards and caught 88 passes. But was he the dominant star some projected in 2006 when he was the Heisman-winning No. 2 overall pick out of USC? Not really.

'He's a cool cat'

Now, Bush is looking for a fit, and the California guy who used to make news by dating Kim Kardashian has begun blending in nicely with the Lions.

“He has the star qualities, for sure,” Burleson said. “I have so many people, men and women, ask me, ‘What’s Reggie like, can you get me an autograph, can you get me a picture?’ He’s a cool cat, pretty chill, relaxes, cracks jokes, takes jokes. He didn’t come in here acting Hollywood, even though he could and nobody would care.”

It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. The Lions needed an offensive player who could help Johnson do more, and Bush needed a team that would let him do more. Bush is counting heavily on himself, which is good, because the Lions are counting heavily on him.


Running back Reggie Bush says he wants to prove to people that he can do it all. He's already a big part of the offense. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News
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