Saints coach Payton can count 8 familiar Lions faces

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Saints coach Sean Payton is already preparing for a bit of a reunion.

He’ll see plenty of familiar faces of former players and coaches across the field when the Saints play the Lions on Sunday at Ford Field.

“I’ve got eight asterisks here: (Reggie) Bush, Jed Collins, Joique Bell, Danny Gorrer, Isa (Abdul-Quddus), (offensive coordinator) Joe Lombardi, (special teams coach) John Bonamego and (defensive backs coach) Tony Oden,” Payton joked Wednesday during a teleconference.

The biggest connection is Bush, who was the No. 2 pick in the 2006 draft. Payton recalled that almost everyone thought Bush would be the top pick for the Texans. But the day before the draft, news broke that the Texans would pick Mario Williams, and Bush fell to the Saints.

In five seasons in New Orleans, Bush rushed for 2,090 yards and 17 touchdowns and added 294 catches for 2,142 yards and 12 touchdowns. With the Lions, Bush plays a similar dual role out of the backfield.

“It was pure excitement mainly because nobody thought that was even an option,” quarterback Drew Brees said of the way the Saints used Bush. “Just what he can do, he’s so versatile, he’s such a weapon.

“We had five really good years together and I think very highly of him. He was a great player for us and he continues to be. It’s hard to believe this is his ninth year. It goes by fast, but he’s still playing at a high level.”

Lombardi, who coached quarterbacks for Payton, brings a wealth of knowledge on the Saints offense, but has made his own tweaks to fit the Lions personnel.

“My time with Joe was awesome,” Brees said. “I have so much respect for him. I think he’s such a great coach.”

Payton echoed Brees’ sentiments on Lombardi.

“He was a great assistant,” Payton said. “One of the unique things that takes place when you’re at a place for one period of time like I have and our staff has been is, you get talented coaches that end up getting opportunities to move on.”

Trying to predict success for Bell, though, was a different case. He bounced from the practice squad to the active roster and didn’t stick until he made the Lions roster.

“Joique came to us and we had him on our practice squad and we saw and you can obviously see he had real good instincts,” Payton said. “The hard thing for us at the time was that we were so deep at the position.”