With immense struggle at the Safety position last season, one of the New York Jets’ most pressing needs heading into the 2012 draft was to find players to add to the back of their defensive secondary. New York was repeatedly hurt by their safety play last year, especially after the season ending injury to Jim Leonhard. Opposing tight ends generally had field days against the Jets, most notably New England’s Rob Gronkowski. In his two games against Gang Green last season, Gronkowski caught 12 balls for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns. If New York ever wants to take the reigns from New England in the AFC East, one of the many things they will have to do is shutdown the young TE duo of Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who also had 9 catches for 97 yards in his two games against the Jets last year.
New York addressed the safety position via free agency with the addition of former first round selection LaRon Landry. However, Landry is known for his physicality and play as a Strong Safety, rather than his coverage ability. The Jets desperately needed to add a quality cover Safety, and that is exactly what they did when they selected Josh Bush with the 187th overall pick in this year’s draft. While Landry will serve an in the box type role this season, Bush has the ability to take over for Leonhard in the center field role for New York. Eric Smith will likely begin the season as the starter, but with Bush’s strong cover skills, there is certainly a chance for him to see significant time, and eventually surpass Smith by mid to late season.
The most obvious trait that stands out on Bush is his athleticism. He has very smooth hips and makes seamless transitions from his backpedal into his forward progressions. He shows fantastic ability to read routes and react to the ball. His has good closing speed which gives him great range and the ability to roam the field freely. This is crucial to the position, because it allows him have the liberty to navigate the secondary.
Bush’s run game skills are excellent as well. His pursuit angles are what a safety’s should be. He will not take poor angles to try and make a play, but instead will take the longer, safer angles, while allowing everyone in front of him to make the tackle before the ball carrier gets to his level, literally making himself the last line of defense. In terms of run defense, this is exactly what a free safety should be doing.
As a true free safety, Bush knows his assignments, and does a great job of orchestrating the defense by getting his teammates in the right spots before the snap. He can certainly make the big play, demonstrated by his 6 interceptions at Wake Forest last season, but he will not be depended on to do so, especially in New York’s star studded secondary. Instead, Bush will need to be cerebral and be able to blanket the Tight End, along with anything else over the middle, something he is no stranger to. Last season against Clemson, Bush was a problem for the Tigers’ All American Tight End, Dwayne Allen. Against Bush and the Wake Forest defense, Allen amassed only 4 catches for 48 yards.
Bush’s strong points are an excellent fit for the Jets. He is very fast, extremely quick, and similar to his rookie counterparts that we have previously reviewed, he is very tough. Bush also demonstrates a vast knowledge of the defense and his responsibilities. He knows his job and constantly executes his assignments with one hundred percent effort. Bush does not get caught up worrying about his teammates’ assignments, which shows he has great trust in those around him, something vital to the success of any defense.
While Bush certainly possesses athleticism, passion, and confidence, there are some aspects of his game that, if improved upon, will only make him a better, more complete player. His ability to shed blocks is somewhat poor, and his tackling skills, although good, are far from perfect. As a Free Safety, Bush’s play in these areas will not determine his success at the position, but improvement here will not only make him a better player, it will enhance the entire defense as well.
In evaluating film of Josh Bush, there is certainly great question as to how he flew so far under the radar in college. Despite being a third team All American, and first team All ACC selection, Bush was snubbed for the Senior Bowl and did not receive an invite to the NFL Combine. He moved from the Cornerback position to Safety for his senior season, so perhaps there were concerns about his level of experience. He also does not have elite size, but at 5’11” 203 lbs, he is certainly big enough to develop into a very productive NFL safety.
Overall, Bush surely has the ability to be an early contributor. His athleticism and coverage skills will make him a great fit for the role he will be placed in with the Jets. Combine that with the extreme lack of depth the Jets have at the Free Safety position, and he will more than likely always be a play or two away from getting on the field. Eric Smith is expected to begin the season as the starting FS, but if he begins to struggle again, expect New York to take a shot with Bush. If he can develop intellectually, he will prove to be a stronger, faster, more athletic Jim Leonhard. The key will be how well he can grasp the defense and how confident he will be in taking command.
Editor’s Notes – Bush reminds me an awful lot of Dwight Lowery. He is a hybrid safety/corner with average size and speed that has very good ball skills and instincts. When the Jets go to a three safety look, he is a logical player to drop into a centerfield type role. It wouldn’t shock me if he found his way on to the field as a starter at some point considering the Jets depth chart but ideally he will spend this season only playing in sub packages and on special teams.