Key matchups: Linebackers vs. Bush

For all the talk of Drew Brees, late hits and season-opener hype, one player is going relatively unnoticed. The Vikings defense will have to pay attention to a lot of weapons, but maybe none more slippery than Reggie Bush.

Chad Greenway and Ben Leber vs. Reggie Bush

The focus of attention heading into the Vikings-Saints rematch to open the 2010 season is likely going to be on the Vikings' lack of depth in the secondary and the Saints multi-receiver abilities. But the biggest player in the Saints offense Thursday may be the one with the least-defined role as running back Reggie Bush's battles with outside linebackers Chad Greenway and Ben Leber in this week's key matchup.

When the Saints made Bush the No. 2 pick in the 2006 draft, many viewed it as a gift. The Heisman Trophy winner at USC, most believed Bush would be the first overall pick in the draft. When he and his agent were unable to strike a deal with the Houston Texans, the team signed Mario Williams and didn't look back. Bush fell to the Saints and the fan base got energized. However, when asked following the draft why they passed on Bush, the Texans said they thought Williams could become a dominant defensive end and that Bush likely wouldn't be an every-down running back, which is what the Texans felt they needed to have by paying a first overall draft pick.

While the Texans haven't done a whole lot right, they hit the nail on the head with the assessment of Bush. Although an eminently talented player, Bush has been a very expensive role player known for having huge games four or five times a year and then posting relatively pedestrian numbers. His history has been that he can be contained by teams that put in the effort. If they don't, he can burn you like few players in the league.

Bush is a running back by trade, but does most of his damage as a receiver. He has never been a full-time runner, averaging just 10 carries a game during his four-year career, and his numbers haven't been eye-popping in any sense of the word. In terms of a No. 2 overall draft pick, there is no question that Bush has been a disappointment. But as a game-to-game role player, he is as dangerous as any player in the league and became the precursor to the multi-faceted offensive game-breaker that guys like Devin Hester and Percy Harvin have become. Bush is a true triple threat. He can bring punt returns back for touchdowns, carry the ball 10-15 times and catch seven to 10 passes in a game. Although rarely used too heavily in consecutive games, Bush will have the chance to make big plays on offense and special teams. It will be the responsibility of Leber and Greenway to assure that, if Bush makes any big impact on the game, it's on special teams and not offense.

Bush does very little work inside the tackles. His damage is done in the perimeter. It is clear that the Vikings were concerned about Bush in last year's NFC Championship Game. There were a handful of plays in which defensive end Jared Allen shut down his pass rush when he saw Bush fanning out for a screen pass. When your top sack specialist is willing to break off his route to the QB to help blow up a play he expects will go to Bush, that is respect.

Greenway and Leber will have the assignment to keep Bush contained between the hashmarks and the sideline. For all his skills, he is not a tough player who lowers his head and bulls for more yardage. He runs out of bounds a lot. He goes down relatively easy by NFL standards and his career numbers reflect that – if given the proper attention, he can be stymied.

The Vikings will be paying the most defensive attention to the wide receiver corps of the Saints because the Vikes are shorthanded at cornerback and the Saints are deep at wide receiver. Leber and Greenway are going to be left on an island to take down players like Bush and tight end Jeremy Shockey. For all his skills, Shockey doesn't run away from people. He'll fight for yardage, but won't out-run anybody. Bush is a different story.

You can bet the Saints are going to design plays to get Bush one-on-one with either Leber or Greenway in the open field at least three or four times. It will be those plays where a 22-man game becomes a two-man game – Bush gets the ball and needs to make one player miss to get into the open field for a huge gain. Greenway and Leber may have to make every play on Bush in single coverage. The extent to which they can bottle him up and take away one of the unsung weapons of the Saints lineup will go a long way to determining who wins and loses.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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