Most NFL veterans in their 30s want no part of special teams. Then there’s Reggie Bush, who turned 30 in March and is lobbying hard to be the 49ers’ punt returner this season.
“It’s another way to get the ball in my hands; it’s another way for me to help out the team,” Bush said Saturday, hours before the team’s first full-squad practice. “I love returning punts.”
College football fans in California will recall Bush, a decade ago, pin-balling across the field on punt returns for USC. They were among his most exhilarating plays with Bush scoring two touchdowns in 2004 and another – from 84 yards away – in 2005, the year he won the Heisman Trophy.
Bush noted that you didn’t have to go back that far to review his punt-return highlight film.
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He scored four touchdowns on returns with the Saints, his first NFL team. One came his rookie season in 2006. Two years later, he averaged 13.5 yards per return and scored three touchdowns on punts. Two came in the same game against the Vikings.
Bush’s former Saints teams had an abundance of runners, from Deuce McAllister to Pierre Thomas to Mike Bell and Chris Ivory. That allowed the Saints to spread the carries and gave Bush an opportunity on special teams.
In successive stops in Miami and Detroit, however, he had a bigger role at running back and, for the last three seasons, a non-existent one at punt returner.
Bush certainly will see time in San Francisco’s backfield this season, especially as an out-of-the-backfield receiver on third downs and obvious passing downs. But Carlos Hyde promises to get the bulk of the team’s carries with Kendall Hunter likely to fill in at times as well.
That could free Bush for special teams. More than that, there seems to be a need.
Last year’s main returner, Bruce Ellington, didn’t have any costly blunders in his first year on the job. But the then-rookie didn’t offer much excitement, either. Ellington was safe, averaging 8.2 yards a return with 12 fair catches on 23 opportunities.
Bush, by contrast, had 16 fair catches in six seasons as a returner. That is, when the ball was in the air, he was eager to bring it back.
“I’ve always loved being back there and being able to change the game with one play,” he said. “I look forward to being able to do it here, too.”