The Packers had their best season on special teams under Coordinator Shawn Slocum in 2011, and re-signing veteran Jarrett Bush was the first step in keeping that momentum going for 2012.
Bush, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, visited both the Jets and Cardinals last month, but when starting cornerback jobs were not on the table, he decided to return to a role he has come to know and love through six seasons with the Packers.
A special teams leader and valuable reserve for the defensive secondary, Bush talked with packers.com about his return in very simple terms.
“I love what we have here in Green Bay,” he said. “I’m pushing for another ring. It’s in my heart to try to win again.”
It’s impossible for Bush not to like what he’s coming back to on special teams. With Randall Cobb taking over as a returner, the Packers improved from 26th and 22nd in the league on kickoff and punt returns in 2010, respectively, to 12th in both categories last season.
The coverage units also settled in after a rough opening night against New Orleans, and Bush foresees a continued climb up the charts.
“I don’t see why we can’t be one of the top five special teams units in the league,” he said. “We just have to make sure everybody comes back ready to work.
“We’ve got some of the best in the business.”
By that, Bush meant specifically Cobb, kicker Mason Crosby and punter Tim Masthay as the key specialists. As for up-and-coming players, Bush also liked what he saw last year from rookies Brandon Saine, Ryan Taylor and M.D. Jennings on the return and coverage units, while rookie Alex Green and second-year pro Andrew Quarless were also starting to make their mark before going down with knee injuries.
The humble Bush won’t say so about himself, but he’s one of the best in the business, too. The evidence lies in his two brief forays into free agency despite never being a defensive starter.
First, after the 2008 season as a restricted free agent, he received a three-year offer from the Tennessee Titans the Packers matched. Then, as a UFA last month, he made two visits and reportedly generated interest from at least one other team.
A high-energy, fearless player who often absorbs double teams on both punt and kickoff coverage, Bush was voted a special teams captain for the playoffs each of the last two seasons. He’s grateful to receive that kind of respect from his teammates, and he takes it seriously.
“I love the role. I love being the guy who gets to wear the ‘C’ on his chest, showing you represent that squad,” he said. “It makes it exciting. It’s about showing the young guys how it’s supposed to be done correctly. I try to take pride in leading by example.”
Bush has admirably improved in that respect in recent years. Often the object of fans’ scorn earlier in his career for repeated penalties on special teams, Bush has reduced his infractions each of the last three seasons and had just one special teams penalty in 2011.
In fact, dating back to 2010, Bush went 21 consecutive games (including playoffs) without a special teams foul until he was flagged for holding at Kansas City in Week 15 last season.
“I was super-aggressive, which wasn’t a bad thing, but I just needed to be more conscious of where I put my hands and how I was putting my hands on the player,” Bush said. “Once I figured that out, and the technique of it, everything fell into place.”
Bush, who will forever be remembered for his interception of Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XLV, potentially could take on a larger role on defense in 2012, too. In last season’s divisional playoff loss to the Giants, Bush was made the “starting” nickel corner on early downs because of his tackling and run-support skills. As the dime corner in the regular season, he blitzed a fair amount.
Whether either arrangement continues will depend on the development of young corners Sam Shields and Davon House, as well as any other cornerbacks the Packers add during or after the draft.
In any event, Bush has no doubt come a long way. He described the early stages of his career as “making lemonade out of lemons,” after going undrafted in 2006 and then being cut by Carolina before being claimed off waivers by the Packers.
Now, coming back for a seventh season, he calls himself “that little kid still running around, full of energy,” and ready to make the most of yet another go-round in Green Bay.
“Green Bay was the first team to give me an opportunity to show what I can do,” Bush said. “Whatever they see me as, I’ll try to contribute. I’m definitely trying to take a couple steps forward.
“Hopefully, we can keep this thing going and shoot for another ring.”