With Reggie Bush likely to return, New Orleans Saints offense may be at full health

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune November 26, 2008 8:16PM

Reggie Bush says he will play Sunday at Tampa Bay. ‘But I know I said that last week.’

Reggie Bush insisted that he’ll be back on the field Sunday at Tampa Bay. And this time he said he means it. “Oh yeah, I’m definitely a go this week. I know I said that last week, but it’s definitely a go this week, ” said the Saints tailback, who missed the last four games with a left knee injury. “I’m 100-percent certain I’ll be able to do everything that I was doing before I got injured. . . . I’ll be doing it all. Punts and everything.”
Saints Coach Sean Payton wasn’t quite as emphatic, but he too said that he thinks Bush will play against the Buccaneers.

Bush, who tore the meniscus in his knee on Oct. 19 at Carolina, participated in Wednesday’s practice on a limited basis. It will be a good sign if he can return to the practice field again today. He has not yet practiced two days in a row.

“I felt good today, ” Bush said. “I obviously didn’t do a whole practice today, but I was doing a little bit here and there, just kind of easing back into it. But I felt great. The leg feels great. It’s the best it’s felt since I injured it.”

The Saints have actually fared quite well without Bush, winning three of four games while he’s been out — including a dominating 51-29 victory over Green Bay on Monday night.

Bush still believes he can crank the offense up another notch.

“I’m a competitor, and Coach Payton and the rest of my teammates know when I’m on the field that they always have a chance, ” said Bush, who was leading the Saints in touchdowns, rushing yards and receptions before he suffered the injury. “No disrespect to any of the other guys, because we have a lot of great players on this team, a lot of game-breakers, and I think you saw a lot of that against Green Bay. But obviously I feel like I have the ability to break the game open anytime that I touch the ball, and that’s obviously a threat for defenses. They have to prepare for me, and Coach Payton does a great job of putting me in a position to score and to make plays.”

Both Payton and quarterback Drew Brees said they are looking forward to having Bush back in the lineup because he adds one more threat for defenses to worry about.

And it’s not just Bush coming back into form. Both receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jeremy Shockey have been inching closer to full speed and full strength after being saddled with injuries early in the year. Meanwhile, their replacements, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore and Billy Miller, have developed into superior weapons.

“It’s, OK, pick your poison, ” said Brees who explained that the Saints’ goal is to put pressure on opposing defenses and dictate the tempo and rhythm of the game, forcing them off balance — rather than allowing defenses to set the tone. “We’re on our way back with all our guys, with everybody feeling like, hey, the roles are defined, everybody knows what to expect.

“You know, we go into every game plan with opportunities for every guy, and we kind of get into the game and see how we’re being played and who might have the hot hand and that sort of thing. We just continue to build, and I’m waiting for one of those games where Marques catches 10 balls for a buck fifty and three touchdowns. That type of game is right around the corner for him.”

Colston caught just one pass on Monday night, but it was a big one — a 70-yard touchdown in the third quarter after he put a move on cornerback Charles Woodson. It was his first touchdown of the year after he combined for 19 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

Colston has been inconsistent since returning from thumb surgery last month. He had just one breakout performance, seven catches for 140 yards at Atlanta while the Saints were in desperation mode, throwing the ball on every down late in the game.

“I think it’s only a matter of time, because I feel like the offense is rolling right now, ” Colston said. “You can tell that the vibe in here and just the rhythm on the field is getting close to what it should be, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Colston and Miller both caught their first touchdown passes of the season Monday night, bringing the total to 10 players who have caught scoring passes from Brees this year.

Even Brees, who has been putting up astonishing passing numbers all year, was a little surprised by that particular statistic.

And the list doesn’t even include Shockey, who was supposed to be a premier red zone target, or Thomas, who has become a focal point of the offense recently.

Brees started trying to figure out who else he can add to the list, first asking about Deuce McAllister, who already caught one at Atlanta, then asking about fullback Mike Karney, who has not caught one yet this season.

“We can really spread the love for the rest of the season, ” said Brees with a smile.

ADMONISHED: Colston said he was chastised by the coaching staff after he casually tossed the football away as he crossed the goal line on his touchdown catch Monday night. Replays showed that Colston released the ball almost simultaneously as he broke the plane of the end zone. He insisted that he knew he was in before he let go of the ball, but it was still a risky decision that could have erased six points.

OTHER INJURIES: Three players did not practice Wednesday — Karney (knee), cornerback Aaron Glenn (ankle) and defensive end Jeff Charleston (foot). Karney worked to the side with the training staff and said he felt good. He’s still doubtful for this week, but he’s hoping to be back sooner than later. Charleston aggravated his foot late in Monday night’s game. Payton said he’ll know more about his status Thursday.

GIVING THANKS: Several of the Saints’ more high-profile stars often receive recognition for their community service and charitable foundations, such as former Saints Man of the Year winners Brees, McAllister and Mike McKenzie. But they aren’t the only ones out there giving back to the community week in and week out.

Players make frequent visits to schools and hospitals, among other endeavors on their off days and during the offseason. Some of the most actively involved players who deserve special acknowledgement are Moore, Thomas, offensive linemen Jon Stinchcomb and Zach Strief, cornerback Usama Young and linebacker Troy Evans.

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