METAIRIE, La. – Reggie Bush's versatility gives the New Orleans Saints' offense an element of surprise, even when he is injured, apparently.
"When Reggie's not in the lineup, then who's getting those balls?" Saints quarterback Drew Brees asked rhetorically after practice on Wednesday. "You can't sit here and say that it's just another running back or it's just going to be spread amongst the running backs.
"Those touches could be spread amongst anybody on offense — tight ends, other backs, receivers."
Now that Bush is sidelined with a broken right leg, New Orleans' next several opponents won't have to concern themselves with all the ways he can get the ball out of the backfield or as a receiver.
Yet, because Brees distributes the football so equitably, Atlanta coach Mike Smith contends it will be tough to predict which of the Saints' skill players may see more action in Bush's absence when New Orleans hosts the Falcons on Sunday.
"Reggie Bush is a good football player, but they have a whole bunch of other players," Smith said. "In terms of game-planning there is a little bit of an unknown. When Reggie Bush is in the game, he's going to get his touches. Now you're basically working on a premise of: Where's the ball going to go? Who's it going to go to?
"Drew has lots of weapons. If he wants to work the tight end, he can work the tight end. If he wants to work the vertical stretch with the receivers, he has the guys who can run down the field. (Marques) Colston's a guy who can catch it running across the middle. (Running back) Pierre (Thomas) is leading the team in catches right now. It's an unknown when you have players out."
Since Bush was drafted second overall in 2006, he has missed 12 games because of various injuries. The Saints are 8-4 in those games, and played one of their best games last season — a 38-17 triumph over New England — when Bush was unable to suit up.
"This is the type of situation that brings the best out of other guys," receiver and reserve punt returner Lance Moore said. "Different guys are going to be in different positions and more guys are going to have chances to make plays now that Reggie's gone. That will definitely hurt our offense in the fact that he's not out there, but the next guy has to step up and whoever's in his spot in any given time, they've got to make plays."
Coach Sean Payton said Bush will have a cast on his lower right leg as his broken fibula heals. Payton said Bush is expected to be out about six weeks but could be back after only four if things go well.
"We've gone through this before; this isn't a first," Payton said.
Bush was injured while recovering his fumbled punt with 6:58 left in New Orleans' 25-22 victory over the 49ers on Monday night.
Through the better part of two games, Bush's numbers weren't exactly spectacular. He'd rushed 18 yards on seven carries (a 2.6 average), along with 63 yards on nine receptions, including a 6-yard TD in the win over San Francisco in which his hard quick cut left star linebacker Patrick Willis way out of position.
Bush also had a 43-yard punt return against the 49ers which set up a field goal.
"Reggie gives us a couple rare elements on special teams and offense, so it's definitely a lot of slack that we've got to pick up," Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey said. "It's a hard guy to replace no matter how you look at it."
Payton didn't say who'll receive punts now. Moore has done so in the past and Payton said he will be "in the mix." Cornerback Tracy Porter also worked on punt returns during the preseason.
Meanwhile, the Saints re-signed Ladell Betts, who'd been cut at the end of preseason. Betts, who played for Washington for eight years, is trying to come back from a serious left knee injury last season and figured Bush's injury might give him another shot in New Orleans.
"I knew there would be a possibility because I was here before and because they knew I would know the offense," Betts said. "I got about 10 or 12 text messages from people saying, 'Did you see what happened?' So, I knew there was a possibility."
NOTES: The Saints waived reserve running back and special teams player DeShawn Wynn to make room on the roster for Betts. ... Rookie running back Chris Ivory practiced on a limited basis for the first time since spraining his left knee in New Orleans' final preseason game at Tennessee. ... CB Randall Gay, who had a concussion in the game at San Francisco, is scheduled for an independent medical evaluation Thursday. The results could determine if Gay plays on Sunday, Payton said.