Saints want Bush to copy Westbrook

Published 5:16 pm Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rookie Reggie Bush already may be more famous than the Eagles’ Brian Westbrook.

Westbrook doesn’t have a Heisman Trophy to his name, nor nearly as much face time on the national TV ads.

Bush’s No. 25 Saints jersey was the NFL’s best seller. Westbrook’s No. 36 wasn’t in the top 10.

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Bush played for national championships at USC and was the second overall pick in the most recent NFL draft. Westbrook played for Division I-AA Villanova and was drafted 91st overall in 2002.

Westbrook doesn’t have Bush’s gold cleats, charisma or flashy running style.

What the Eagles’ versatile, gritty running back does have is the kind of game to which Bush aspires.

“I like watching him and always have,” Bush said after practice this week. “I have always been a big fan of his and he is a guy that is everywhere — punt returns, kickoff returns, catching the ball. He’s kind of been a leader for me, seeing how it’s done.”

For the second time this season, Bush will get to see Westbrook in the flesh when the Saints host the Eagles on Saturday night in the second round of the NFC playoffs.

In some ways, the game will showcase two of the most dynamic players in the NFL right now.

Both Bush and Westbrook effectively run and catch the ball out of various formations. Sometimes they line up as receivers. And both return punts from time to time. They have similar physical stature as well. Westbrook is listed at 5-foot-8, 203 pounds, Bush at 5-11, 203.

Of course, Westbrook, now in his fifth season, is not only the more experienced but also the more relied upon of the two by their respective teams.

The Saints call the majority of their running plays for Deuce McAllister. So for this season at least, Westbrook had the more impressive stats.

Westbrook became the Eagles’ premier offensive weapon after quarterback Donovan McNabb was lost for the season to a knee injury during Philadelphia’s 10th game. Westbrook ran the ball 240 times for 1,217 yards and seven touchdowns. He made 77 catches for 699 yards a four scores.

Bush rushed the ball 155 times for 565 yards and six TDs and caught 88 passes for 742 yards and two TDs. Westbrook’s 5.1 yards per run and 9.1 yards per catch were both better Bush’s averages of 3.6 yards per run and 8.4 yards per catch.

Bush got a lot more work fielding punts this season, with 28 returns for 217 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown that won a game against Tampa Bay. Westbrook returned five punts for 39 yards, giving him a 7.8-yard average per return that was slightly better than Bush 7.7-yard average.

Saints coach Sean Payton, who was an assistant in the NFC with the New York Giants and Dallas during Westbrook’s first four years as a pro, has not-so-coincidentally exploited Bush’s versatility as a runner and receiver in much the same way he saw the Eagles us Westbrook.

And Westbrook has noticed.

“Reggie’s an exciting player. He’s fast and makes some people miss. … We do a lot of the same things,” Westbrook said after practice Thursday at the Eagles’ training headquarters. “Actually, they’re stealing all of our offensive plays where Reggie’s getting the ball out of the backfield. A lot of those plays, if you watch them, came from us.”