The Chicago Bears invested heavily in running back Michael Bush last year. As a backup to Matt Forte, Bush received $7 million guaranteed on a four-year deal worth $14 million. That's a substantial cap hit each of those four seasons for a second-team running back, which many believe is a plug-and-play position in today's NFL.
Bush rewarded the team with 3.6 yards per carry and 411 rushing yards, the lowest single-season totals of his five-year career. His nine receptions were also the worst of his career, while his 114 carries were the fewest since 2008 and his five touchdowns were the fewest since 2009. To top it all off, he missed the final three games of the season with a cartilage injury in his ribs.
That is not the type of return on investment GM Phil Emery was expecting when he made Bush one of the highest paid backup ball carriers in the league. Bush recently told the Chicago Tribune that he played almost all of last year with a fractured bone in his right shoulder, which he says is now fully healthy. That explains his dip in production to some degree but it's still unclear whether the 29-year-old halfback can ever again be as useful as he was two years ago, when he rushed for 977 yards in Oakland.
This season, there is a new head coach in town who is installing a brand new offense, one that may not mesh with Bush's downhill running style. So what can we expect from Bush in 2013?
That will all depend on how often he touches the ball. In order for him to be a factor, he'll need opportunities to make plays. Here is the rushing-attempt breakdown of the top ball carriers in Trestman's 10 seasons as an offensive coordinator in the NFL.
Earnest Byner, 157 carries
Kevin Mack, 123 carries
Eric Matcalf, 187
Tim Manoa, 87
Derek Loville, 218
William Floyd, 64
Terry Kirby, 134
Derek Loville, 70
Adrian Murrell, 274
Mario Bates, 60
Adrian Murrell, 193
Mario Bates, 72
Charlie Garner, 211
Tyrone Wheatley, 88
Charlie Garner, 182
Tyrone Wheatley, 108
Tyrone Wheatley, 159
Charlie Garner, 120 (Garner dealt with injuries in 2003 and started just nine games.)
Because of Garner's injuries, we'll leave 2003 out of our analysis. In the other nine seasons, Trestman's backup running backs averaged 87 rushing attempts. Bush has never carried fewer than 95 times in a single season, so his impact on the field could be further reduced due to the new system.
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports
Yet many of Trestman's years as OC came during a time when nearly every NFL team deployed a workhorse running back. In the league today, running back committees are prevalent on all but a handful of clubs. With the preponderance of injuries at the position, teams like to have more than guy who can carry the load.
That's why Bush was paid so handsomely.
And while Trestman liked to give the lion's share of carries to his top back, he never ran a player into the ground. The most attempts any running back received under Trestman was Adrian Murrell's 274 in 1998. By comparison, Forte has had single-season carry totals of 316, 258, 248 and 237. So while the backup carry totals may end up being less than what Bush is used to, he may actually receive a larger percentage of the overall attempts.
What may hurt Bush the most is Forte's prowess as a pass catcher, an area in which Bush has never excelled. In Trestman's offenses, his top backs are used heavily in the passing game, meaning Forte, and not Bush, will be on the field for most third downs. Trestman also likes to pass in the red zone, which could limit Bush's impact near the goal line. Tyrone Wheatley, who was Garner's backup in Oakland, was a power, short-yardage back similar to Bush, yet Wheatley's high TD total in three seasons under Trestman was just five scores.
And let's not forget the presence of Armando Allen, who is a very good pass catcher. Allen doesn't have great size but he can exploit mismatches in the passing game, which could eat even more into Bush's snaps.
Based on what we know about Trestman, it's hard to predict a big year for Bush. He's getting older, he's coming off a season in which he sustained two major injuries, he's not a great fit for the new zone-blocking system and the new head coach has shown in the past he doesn't have great use for a backup RB. Bush may end up being a solid short-yardage option but beyond that, it's hard to foresee Emery getting the return on investment he envisioned last offseason.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.