The Patriots previously hosted free-agent running back Michael Bush and here are some thoughts on his style of play based on film study from three games last season -- Sept. 22 at Steelers; Oct. 10 vs. Giants and Nov. 4 vs. Packers -- as well as some highlight plays in other games:
Limited body of work to digest. Because he didn’t play much throughout the season, and when he did it was often late in games against either a stacked box or when the outcome was decided, there wasn't a whole to go on with Bush based on 2013 film. The games we picked were those in which Bush had a higher level of playing time than normal. He’s a bigger back (6-1, 245) who runs with good body lean and thus doesn't often lose yardage even when the blocking in front of him isn't great. Much like LeGarrette Blount, when he gets some momentum in the open field, he can be difficult to tackle and isn’t afraid to deliver a blow (e.g. lowering the shoulder and blasting the helmet off Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk on a 15-yard catch-and-run). He also showed speed in the open field to run away from defensive backs (e.g. 40-yard TD run late vs. the Browns in Week 15). Bush was mostly used between the tackles, but also showed the ability to run outside on toss plays, make the decisive cut, and catch the ball in the flat and produce in that area of the game as well (e.g. 17-yard catch-and-run TD late vs. Cowboys in Week 14).
Goal-line and short-yardage option. Bush was easiest to find in goal-line and short-yardage situations. While his short-yardage percentage was not very good in the games we watched, part of that was a result of what was happening in front of him. He showed the ability to run through arm tackles with his big frame (6-1, 245), with one example coming in the Week 3 game against the Steelers on a 1-yard touchdown run. Bush had been stopped on two previous tries from the 1, but bulldozed it in on fourth-and-goal. The play was a good example of how his size can be an advantage in close as he was initially stopped by linebacker Lawrence Timmons, but kept his legs moving on a second effort to bounce off a second tackler and finish the run.
Alignment. While Bush is a bigger back, there were plenty of times the Bears lined him up in the shotgun alongside the quarterback, much like they did with top back Matt Forte. He looked like a willing pass-protector with mixed results in that area (picking up a corner blitz in Week 3 vs. Pittsburgh, while later struggling on a double-team block off the edge on LaMarr Woodley). While he’s had production as a pass-catcher in the past, he was inconsistent in that area in games we watched (e.g. dropped pass vs. Giants). Still, he is a more fluid when releasing into pass routes than what one might expect from a traditional 245-pound back.
Summing it up. Bush turns 30 in June, but his relatively light workload in 2013 contributes to there being a little less wear on his tires; he averaged about eight offensive snaps per game and didn’t play on special teams. He can still help a club as a complementary back. While it would be easy to look at his bigger build and compare him to a bulldozing-type runner, he's actually more of a cross between Blount and third-year Patriots running back Brandon Bolden because we could see him as part of a rotation on early downs and short-yardage situations (Blount) and also in some passing situations (Bolden). He wouldn't factor into the special teams mix other than as a possible kickoff returner. The Patriots' ultimate interest figures to hinge on a combination of price (it's hard to see them extending much beyond the minimum, which they didn't for Blount last year) and potentially what they come away with in the draft.