by Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. — Rafael Bush refuses to believe he’s anything more than a player trying to make an NFL roster with less than two weeks to go before final cuts hit the league.
There’s only one problem with that line of thinking – he has become, in one short year, an integral part of the Saints’ special teams.
In other words, he’s making it cool again to wear your No. 25 Bush Saints jersey.
“I just want to play, man,” Bush said this week. “Wherever they throw me out on the field, I’m comfortable with playing. I just want to go out there and make plays and if it’s special teams, I don’t have a problem with that. And if it’s a specific role on defense, I won’t have a problem with that either.”
He led New Orleans with 15 special teams tackles and had a fumble recovery in coverage in 2012. He finished the season with 13 stops on defense and had interception he returned for 40 yards as he saw more time on the field late in the season.
This preseason, meanwhile, he has spent time with the first-team defense in one of their secondary-heavy substitution packages, covering the deep part of the field while Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper move closer to the line of scrimmage.
If you’re just now noticing him, some of his teammates say it’s about time.
“Raf just has to continue to learn how to play and have confidence in himself and he’ll be just fine,” Harper said. “There’s no saying he can’t do it. He’s physical. He’s fast. He can do all the things. It’s not going to be his ability that holds him back.”
Then again, Bush doesn’t care one way or the other whether he’s a well-known name outside of the Saints’ locker room. The muscular 5-foot-11, 200-pound safety hails from tiny Williston, S.C., where he was overlooked by big-time football-playing schools.
“I really don’t care about that stuff,” Bush said. “I come from a small school. I come from a small town. Being an underdog is something I’m used to. As a man and the type of person I am, I love proving myself. I like to show people that hey, this kid can play.”
He could play at Williston-Elko High School, where they recently retired his jersey, and he could play at South Carolina State University, where he finished with 222 career tackles and was named to the school’s All-Decade Team.
Bush signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted rookie free agent in April 2010, earned a spot on the team’s practice squad in September 2010 and worked his way onto the active roster in December 2010.
And then he was waived during final cuts in 2011, getting another place on the Falcons’ practice squad. Denver signed him in October ’11 before waiving him during the last roster moves in 2012.
That’s when New Orleans signed him and that’s when he began to make his mark.
“Being undrafted, sometimes it’s just not the right time,” Bush said. “So when you get that opportunity and it’s the right time. When you get that opportunity and it’s the right time, you have to make sure you make the best of it.”
Though coach Sean Payton wasn’t around for Bush’s first season in New Orleans, he has seen enough in the young safety this preseason to raise his eyebrows.
“He’s smart and he is someone that understands a defense,” Payton said. “He is a good special teams player and so I’ve said this, in a lot of these positions, if they are not guys that are starting, how many snaps are they going to play in a given game? He provides (us with) some versatility. So far he has done well.”
Still, Bush is trying to reach the heights of his ability while not allowing himself to feel that he has arrived.
“Nothing is guaranteed at this point,” Bush said. “I’m just focused on continuing to get better and like I said, continue to make sure that my teammates and my coaches trust me and just be an asset to the team. I’m not really worried about being a lock or being on the bubble what have you.”