Bush Mania Resumes at Saints Rookie Camp
May. 14, 2006
METAIRIE, La. (AP) _ The public wasn't invited, so curious Saints fans crouched down near the ground or balanced on their toes to peer through shrubs and a chain-link fence to get a first look at Reggie Bush wearing black and gold.
What they saw during Saturday's opening of Saints rookie camp might have inspired more thoughts of voodoo curses than gridiron glory. Bush started limping early in the first practice session and missed several drills while working with a trainer in an attempt to loosen up a strained hamstring before rejoining practice.
He tightened up again during the afternoon session and spent much of the time watching practice with one knee on the field. But coach Sean Payton hardly seemed worried.
``He's been sitting in a limousine too long,'' Payton quipped, referring to the star treatment Bush has received since turning pro and racking up endorsement deals. ``He's fine. These guys all, in his case certainly, are coming from schedules that may not have allowed them to stay in the same shape that they normally would be in-season. He'll be fine.''
Payton said coaches chose to rest Bush in the afternoon in the hopes he'd feel well enough to participate more on Sunday.
``It's all right. I just tweaked it a little bit,'' Bush said, adding that he intended to practice Sunday if the trainers approved. ``As far as I'm concerned, I'm ready to go.''
When Houston surprisingly passed over Bush, allowing New Orleans to take him second overall in the NFL draft, it set off chants of ``Reggie!'' and raucous celebrations all around New Orleans. Ticket sales have surged and stores have been taking orders for his jersey, even though it's not clear what number he'll wear yet.
For now, in practice, he is wearing No. 5, which he wore as a Heisman Trophy and college national championship winner at Southern California. He may have to switch to a number between 20 and 49 as NFL rules currently require for running backs. But Bush has petitioned the league for an exception, and even pledged to donate 25 percent of his take on jersey sales to the New Orleans-area recovery from Hurricane Katrina if the league allows it.
During league meetings later this month, the NFL is slated to discuss whether to slate a wider range of numbers for all skill players, such as running backs, receivers and quarterbacks.
``Obviously I'd love to be able to wear No. 5, but if I don't, I understand,'' Bush said. ``I know there's been a rule for years before I've gotten here, so it's something that I'd like to happen, but if it doesn't, no worries.''
What is more important to Bush is arriving at preseason training camp on time with a signed contract, which is expected to be close to the $54 million, six-year deal that first overall pick Mario Williams got from Houston.
``I told my agent I want to be here in camp on time, whatever it takes,'' Bush said. ``I don't want to get caught up in holdouts. I think it's important to start off on a good note, not only with the team but with the city. ... I know the Saints are more than happy to have me here and we're looking forward to working together and not working against each other.''
Bush was frustrated he couldn't do more at his first Saints practice, but briefly was able to demonstrate what made him so good in college, reacting to a ball thrown behind him by snapping it out of the air with one hand without slowing his pass route, then cutting up the sideline.
He ran several short pass routes out of the backfield and also lined up as a slot receiver. While Bush considers himself a running back first, he expects the Saints to exploit his versatility, given that they already have a strong running back in Deuce McAllister.
``Just put me out there and let me make plays,'' Bush said. ``We haven't even scratched the surface yet of what the coaches are going to do with me in the offense. It's still very early.''
Indeed, football season is several months away, but the buzz around Bush in New Orleans has been quite palpable since the day he was drafted.
He is hailed like a hero here with chants of his name whenever he shows up in public. And already he has begun working on community projects, getting involved with the restoration of a youth football field and the saving of a school for autistic children that was in danger of closing, he said.
``The way the city has embraced me, welcomed me, has been crazy,'' Bush said. ``I'm so excited to be here.''
Bush hasn't gotten a sugarcoated view of town. He has toured the devastated Ninth Ward neighborhood, where he saw evidence of Katrina's catastrophic flooding that lifted homes off their foundations and crashed them into one another, leaving behind what Bush and many others have described as a ``war zone.''
``I could just envision what happened and what they were going through,'' Bush recalled. ``So for me, I think it was good to see that _ and good to know, ultimately, what this team is playing for.''