It took over a year for running back Reggie Bush to show the New Orleans Saints he was not capable of carrying a starting workload. In his debut with the Miami Dolphins Monday night, it took Bush only a quarter to prove he still wasn't ready to do so.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll used Bush creatively on the Dolphins' first series, most noticeably on 4th-and-1 when quarterback Chad Henne faked a sweep to Bush before handing off to fullback Lex Hilliard. Hilliard exploded through the space the defense vacated pursuing Bush, easily picking up two yards and a first down.
As in New Orleans, Bush's biggest value to the Dolphins came as a decoy rather than as the featured back. Bush finished the night with 11 carries for only 38 yards, averaging an unimpressive 3.45 yards per carry. Bush added some value to the passing game with nine receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown, but three of those receptions were third-down passes into the flat where Bush failed to gain enough yards to move the chains.
For the Dolphins to remain competitive in their division, they cannot expect Bush to be the typical every-down running back. When Daboll was the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator, he maximized a lifeless offensive roster's potential by utilizing a "Flash" package that direct-snapped the ball to kick returner Josh Cribbs.
To turn Bush into a player worth the two-year, $9.75 contract the Dolphins invested in him, Daboll must use similar creativity. Bush is never going to be an every-down back that can go up the middle for a consistent four yards per carry; he just isn't built for it. That doesn't mean the Dolphins can't get value from him, though.
Bush is at his best when moved all over the field to create match-up problems for the opposing defense. He can be a game-changing playmaker when given the ball in space. The key to getting the most from Bush is placing him in a variety of locations from which he can be used to attack a defense.
One personnel grouping from which Bush's versatility can be utilized is 22 personnel, meaning a personnel set with two tight ends, two running backs and one wide receiver. For the Dolphins, a 22 set would likely place Bush and Hilliard in the backfield together with receiver Brandon Marshall out wide.
In the first pictured play diagram, the Dolphins' 22 personnel is arranged in a direct-snap look, similar in principles to the Wildcat formations former Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning used to employ with great success.
The offensive line would be balanced with one tight end on either side, and Marshall deployed wide to the right. With quarterback Chad Henne out wide to the left, the Dolphins' offense would have a variety of options depending on what the defense shows before the snap.
Depending on the side of the line from which the defense appeared to be run-blitzing, Bush could either hand the ball off to Hilliard on a sweep or fake the handoff and keep the ball on a sweep to the opposite side of the field. Occasionally, the Dolphins could catch defenses off guard by having Hilliard reverse the ball to Henne, who could lob the ball to Marshall or a tight end.
One area in which the formation would be dissimilar to the Wildcat and more like the "Wild Horses" formation from Josh McDaniels' years as the Denver Broncos' head coach is the ability of the quarterback to move under center.
If the defense is lined up in too heavy of a run-stopping look and isn't honoring the threat of the pass, Henne can motion under center and read the simplified coverage to exploit a match-up in the passing game. In such a situation, Marshall could draw the defense downfield with a deep route, creating room underneath for the tight ends and backs.
Additionally, changing into a basic power run play to the right from such a formation would be effective if the defense backed off the line of scrimmage when Henne moved under center. The advantage to using such a variety of plays from the same personnel grouping is that when the Dolphins have their 22 personnel in the huddle, defensive coordinators would have no idea what play to expect and wouldn't know what personnel package of their own to put into the game.
To further confuse opposing defenses, the Dolphins could also devise some passing plays from the 22 personnel set. If the defense sends out a heavy run defensive package such as the 4-4 or 46, the Dolphins can line up in a similar formation to the Wildcat-based one, but with Bush in the slot.
Henne could easily hand the ball off to Hilliard on a power run behind the left guard if the defense shifts over to compensate for the three eligible receivers on the right side of the field.
If the defense stays focused on the run, Henne could fake the handoff and roll out to hit Bush on a basic screen pass.
Of course, no package designed to get Bush the ball is complete without at least one play devised to get Bush wide-open behind the entire defense. If the defense is keying in on the screen when Bush is in the slot, Marshall and the strong side tight end can run routes designed to bump nearby defenders and clear space for Bush to run deep on a "Go" route.
As an outlet if the defense is closing in on Henne before Bush gets open, the weak side tight end can run an option route where he decides what type of route to run based on how he is being covered.
The suggested plays are simply a few ways in which Daboll can utilize Bush's skill set from a variety of points on the field. Daboll will have to continually add similar wrinkles and gadget plays into his offense to keep Bush from being rendered ineffective.
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