By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 at 9:08 am in Oakland Raiders.
Note: Attending a funeral service today . . . no Raiders chat. Hope everyone had a good Memorial Day weekend.
We’re in to the real dead period of the offseason, with no OTAs scheduled for this week and little in the way of speculation other than the status of defensive end Derrick Burgess and rumors regarding a trade.
Michael Bush was the subject of trade rumors himself this offseason, most of which never made much sense from the Raiders perspective because he’s an upper-tier talent playing for fourth-round money coming off a spectacular season finale.
Make no mistake, teams looked at the Raiders well-stocked running back position and came calling. There’s Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas, Louis Rankin and now Gary Russell (who can also play fullback) on hand, which would make another team wonder if they could possibly pry Bush away from Oakland.
Hard to imagine anyone would give up enough to make it worthwhile before the Raiders get a chance to really see what they’ve got.
And yes, being the sugar-coating Raider-hater that I am (I got told in the same chat last week I sugar-coated the Raiders problems and also was told I am a hater), I’m still waiting to see if Bush is all that.
For two quarters, Bush may have been the most spectacular running back in the NFL.
In Week 2 against Kansas City, Bush had 77 yards on 11 carries and had a 32-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put away the Chiefs. In Week 17 against Tampa Bay, Bush had 129 yards on 13 carries and a 67-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to spark a come-from-behind 31-24 win over the Bucs.
In those two quarters, Bush carried 24 times for 206 yards and scored twice on breakaway runs, averaging 8.6 yards per carry. He was the dominant force in two of the Raiders five wins.
If you want to anoint Bush as the second-coming of Jim Brown, play those quarters over and over and stop reading here.
Because other than those two quarters, when the Raiders were cut-blocking the opposition to ribbons with Bush and his 245-plus pounds breaking into the second-level untouched, he was ordinary. Even less than ordinary.
Minus the fourth quarters against the Chiefs and Bucs, Bush carried 71 times for 215 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 2.8 yards per carry.
Remove the two breakaway runs, both of which Bush may well have recorded in a flag football game, and his season yards per carry drops from 4.4 to 3.5.
Bush’s most impressive moment in the Bucs game didn’t come in the fourth quarter. It came early in the second quarter on a 4-yard run for the game’s first touchdown. On the play, Bush was met at the 2-line but drove into the end zone for the score _ his only touchdown of the season other than the long fourth-quarter strikes.
It’s the kind of play you expect out of a 245-pound back. With Bush’s strength and power, you expect him to destroy smaller players once he gets into the secondary. On the short run, he also took on players bigger than himself and drove them backward.
That was something the Raiders wanted from Bush last year, hoping he could take over short-yardage duties and get key first downs. There was a full-contact goal line drill during a night practice at training camp last year where the Raiders lined up Bush and ran him directly into the middle from the 1-yard line.
He was met by Kirk Morrison in a ferocious collision and didn’t appear to get in. The past few years, most everyone has managed to bag rushing touchdowns against the Oakland defense.
Yet after practice, coach Lane Kiffin went on and on about how important it was that Bush had proven he could produce in short-yardage. If Bush did score on the play, it was by an eyelash, and hardly the sort of emphatic statement Kiffin claimed at the time.
That’s the beauty of training camp, you can call a play a success even when it’s not as long as you’re the head coach.
As the season went on, Bush never became the back the Raiders went to on short-yardage. His use was limited even though Fargas had his usual assortment of dings and dents and McFadden had turf toe on both feet.
Bush openly balked when asked to play fullback in an emergency when both Oren O’Neal and Justin Griffith were lost for the season with knee injuries. It could have provided some single-back sets as well as pass receiving opportunities, and Bush happens to be a marvelous receiver.
It’s worth noting that on a couple of occasions, Bush appeared to line up in a fullback position only to shift out of it during the recent OTA. Maybe he is being more receptive to simply getting on the field _ the first step to staying on the field.
During the offseason non-contact workouts open to the media, Bush looks as swift and fearsome as ever breaking into the secondary _ just like he did in the fourth quarters against the Chiefs and Bucs.
But it’s not always that easy, and Bush’s next step is to prove he can be the back who can gain 3 yards on third-and-2 or get 2 yards on third-and-1.
Conventional wisdom has it that at some point this season, whether because of injury or simply a changing of the guard, Fargas will begin to be phased out in favor of Bush. Bush would then join McFadden in a two-back system, with both players being threats as pass receivers as well as runners.
Fargas, ever the team player, would recede into the background without complaint and be ready and waiting when someone got hurt.
Fargas is not as big as Bush, can’t catch the ball nearly as well and doesn’t have as natural a running style. Bush, on the other hand, hasn’t run with the same abandon as Fargas until he’s faced with someone smaller, although the short touchdown run against the Bucs was promising.
With Fargas around and should Lorenzo Neal still have enough left to make the team and be a contributor, Bush is surrounded by professionalism (not to mention a powerful lead blocker).
Whether Bush is truly an exceptional back or simply an intriguing talent who keeps you interested with a big quarter here and there will be answered starting in late July.