When former NFL running back Reggie Bush was traded from the New Orleans Saints to the Miami Dolphins before the 2011 season, he desperately needed to revitalize his professional career. The man who helped him accomplish that was current New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll.
Daboll was the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator that season. Bush was coming off a year with the Saints where he was almost entirely phased out of the offense, recording just 150 rushing yards and zero rushing touchdowns in eight games played (six starts). Most NFL fans considered the former No. 2 overall pick a massive bust, but Daboll devised a plan to unleash Bush.
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“The thing I like about Daboll is just how innovative he is,” Bush told the New York Post. “I had my best years as a running back in Miami. I think that speaks volumes to Daboll and the offense he brings in. He doesn’t say, ‘I’m going to fit players into my system.’ He works with what he has, and I think that’s the ultimate sign of a players’ coach. When you have a coach who can’t adjust, it shows.”
After going five straight seasons with less than 600 rushing yards, Bush exploded for a career-high 1,086 rushing yards in his first season with Daboll and the Dolphins.
While Bush was an effective pass-catcher coming out of the backfield in New Orleans, his struggles came when the Saints called on him to carry the ball in between the tackles. But in Miami, Daboll was the first to feed him over 200 carries in a season. The plan paid off, as Bush averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored six rushing touchdowns in 2011.
Daboll also preserved Bush’s receiving ability, as the revitalized running back added 43 receptions for 296 yards and a touchdown for the Dolphins that season. Overall, Daboll created a path for Bush to rack up 1,382 yards from scrimmage in 2011 — over 1,000 yards more than he posted in his final year with the Saints.
The following offseason, Daboll made a lateral move to become the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator. Bush took a statistical hit — with his yards-per-carry average dropping from 5.0 to 4.3 without Daboll — but the Dolphins continued to use him as a traditional running back.
The success in Miami led to a free-agent deal with the Detroit Lions, and that’s where Bush set a career-high with 1,512 yards from scrimmage in 2013. The former USC star bounced around the league until the age of 31 and retired with 9,088 career scrimmage yards and 54 total touchdowns.
That’s not a bad career for a running back who was widely considered one of the biggest NFL draft disappointments of all time before teaming up with Daboll in Miami.
What Does This Mean For Saquon Barkley?
Reggie Bush and Saquon Barkley have a lot in common, even before you get to the Brian Daboll connection. They were both electric running backs in college. They both went No. 2 overall in the NFL Draft. When Barkley caught 91 passes in 2018, he broke the record previously held by Bush (88) for most receptions by a rookie running back.
While Barkley made a smoother immediate transition to the NFL than Bush, injuries and misuse have plagued his career in a similar way. Daboll aims to reverse that trend in 2022.
We already know the Giants plan to spread out their offense and use Barkley more as a receiver, but will Daboll be able to get Barkley going on the ground again? Barkley’s yards-per-carry average has dropped steadily from 5.0 as a rookie in 2018 to 4.6 in 2019 to 3.7 in 2021.
After unleashing Bush back in 2011, Daboll must now help Barkley rediscover his rookie year form.
Reggie Bush Has Been a Saquon Barkley Believer Since Day 1
Before the 2018 NFL Draft, Bush said Barkley was more NFL-ready than he was coming out of college and that Barkley should be the No. 1 pick.
“I think Saquon is more ready, prepared, going in,” Bush told TMZ Sports in 2018. “Just because his running style to me translates to the NFL. For me, my first year in the league there was a learning curve of how to run between the tackles at the NFL level.”
Baker Mayfield ended up going first-overall that year, but with him and Sam Darnold now both with the Carolina Panthers, Barkley is the only top-three pick from that class who is still with the team that drafted him.