Bush Looking For Bigger Special Teams Impact

Jarrett Bush isn’t relaxing with his new multi-year contract. He joined the first week of the team’s offseason strength and conditioning program at full speed, and his immediate goal is to learn the new defensive playbook as quickly as he can. But Bush’s key role in the short-term will remain on special teams, where he plays on all four core units (punt coverage and return, kickoff coverage and return) plus the field goal rush team.

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Either way, he knew he was headed for a bigger payday, but that didn't remove the anxiety for Jarrett Bush the past week.

Last week Bush had signed an offer sheet with the Tennessee Titans, but because he was a restricted free agent, the Packers had seven days to match the offer. They did earlier this week, keeping Bush in Green Bay for the fourth year of his career, and the defensive back and special teamer is glad to put the business side of things behind him so he can focus again on football.

"I was pretty anxious, because I didn't know where I was going to be," Bush said. "I lost some sleep. I was trying to figure out where I was going to be so I could start focusing on the playbook, stuff like that. Now I'm home, and it felt good. I slept like a baby."

Bush isn't relaxing with his new multi-year contract, though. He joined the first week of the team's offseason strength and conditioning program at full speed upon signing his new deal, and his immediate goal is to learn the new defensive playbook as quickly as he can.

As both a backup cornerback and safety, Bush has plenty of studying to do. But no matter how the depth chart shakes out in the defensive backfield, Bush's key role in the short-term will remain on special teams, where he plays on all four core units (punt coverage and return, kickoff coverage and return) plus the field goal rush team.

Bush finished second on the team last year with 17 special teams tackles, one behind leader and fellow defensive back Will Blackmon. Bush also was on the field for 75.6 percent (357-of-472) of the special teams plays, tops on the team.

Both Bush and new special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum feel as Bush continues to mature - he began his Packers career as a waiver wire pickup in 2006 - he can make an even greater impact on special teams in 2009, and that's a primary reason he was brought back.

"He brings continuity, and he plays with everything he's got and he's a very productive player," Slocum said. "I think he can really grow. I think he can grow and be more impactful than he's been in the past. I'm looking for possibly some expanded roles for him, and I think he's as excited about doing it as I am."

One possibility Slocum mentioned would be moving Bush from outside jammer on punt return to perhaps an inside rusher, or shifting him between the two spots. He's also a gunner on punt coverage, a role he's likely to keep.

Bush's ultra-aggressive nature on special teams can work against him at times, however. He led the team last season with six penalties on special teams, and while it's unrealistic to expect a player on the field for 20 special teams plays per game to be penalty-free for a whole season, that number of flags needs to come down.

"He plays highly combative, he plays very physical, and some of his penalties were due to that," Slocum said. "He had a couple holding penalties that I think he'll be the first to tell you he could improve his technique there that would probably eliminate those two.

"He had a couple offsides penalties trying to get a jump on blocking kicks. The kickers and execution time are so good in the league that you have to do something, and he studies film and he tries to get an advantage and get a jump start, and a couple times he was wrong.

"But I want him to continue to play with the style he plays, and just being smart in the return game, to try to eliminate the holding penalties. But I don't want him to back off one bit."

Bush knows that's a fine line he must walk a little tighter than he did in '08, but he's not oblivious to the negative effect those mistakes can have, particularly technique errors that he can and should correct.

"I don't try to get penalties," he said. "I try to play tough within the limits of the game. I'm going to play aggressive, and that's one thing that they like, but I need to be more conscious of the penalties.

"I don't think I'll slow down, I don't think I'll be less aggressive. I just have to be more conscious of what I'm doing and where my hands are, things like that."

{sportsad300}Bush's special teams play was the reason for the interest he drew from a handful of teams on the free agent market, but Slocum sees Bush not just as a special teams regular but a potential leader with his experience and energetic play.

Bush admits he might have had a better chance to compete sooner for a starting job on defense with another team, but he's happy to be back. Just because he's currently mixed in a deep cornerback group behind starters Al Harris and Charles Woodson - a group that includes Tramon Williams, Blackmon, Pat Lee and Joe Porter - and just because he once held the nickel role (in 2007) before relinquishing it to Williams, doesn't mean there won't be an opportunity down the line. Adding safety work to his responsibilities last year only made him a more valuable reserve as well.

"It makes you feel wanted, that they want me here," Bush said of the Packers matching the Titans' offer. "They could have let me go, but they didn't. It feels good internally and confirms that I can play and hopefully get an opportunity to see more field time. It reaffirms I can contribute and have a significant role on this team.

"I have to look at it as I get to learn some more from Al and 'Wood'. They're on their last few years in the league, and this is an opportunity to learn and kind of wait for me, Tramon, 'Black' and 'P-Lee' to step up, and when they're gone to keep playing at a high level. There's no telling what will happen, and we've got a great bunch of DBs."

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