MIAMI — As a rookie, Reggie Bush helped lead the Saints to the NFC title game. Just 21, his ascendance to stardom seemed assured.
Three years, later, the Saints are in the Super Bowl, and Bush, while certainly an important part of the offense, wasn't even New Orleans' second-leading rusher in 2009, and he has been bothered by left knee injuries for parts of the last three seasons.
However, he remains capable of brilliance; he exploded for 217 all-purpose yards in the Saints' divisional-round win vs. the Cardinals, bursting away for an 83-yard punt return for a score and breaking tackles and sprinting away from the Arizona defense on his way to a 46-yard TD run.
Head coach Sean Payton noted that Bush's youth — he was only 20 when he declared for the NFL draft after winning the Heisman Trophy as a junior at USC in 2005 — was a hurdle he had to overcome early in his career.
"A player like Reggie, like a lot of young players coming out as juniors, they are younger in their development," he said. "Since he's been here in 2006, he is a big part of what we've done. In 2007 and 2008, he had to battle through some injuries, but he's been a big part of our success offensively.
"Whether it's in the passing game or the running game, clearly players that come to you as juniors and early-outs have that much more growth potential just in regards to the logistics of the game. You see a guy like (Saints WR) Robert Meachem who came out early. But each year, Reggie's developed his overall understanding of what we are doing."
Bush, who doesn't turn 25 until March, has had to learn patience.
"I think in a perfect world I would have wanted everything to happen much quicker," he said. "I kind of imagined that I'd have a couple Super Bowl rings by now and a couple Pro Bowls. It's a tough league.
"This is a league of all-stars. It hasn't been all bad because I'm enjoying it. I'm having a great time."
Freeney's status still day-to-day
The most anticipated man at this morning's Colts media session was DE Dwight Freeney. Apparently, he was in no hurry to get bombarded with questions about his ankle injury, which kept him out of practice Wednesday and keeps his availability for this Sunday's game in question.
As the rest of his teammates and coaches met with reporters, a large contingent of writers, photographers and TV cameramen staked out his podium, waiting for the star pass rusher's arrival. Members of the media wondered whether he would show at all, but a Colts team official assured the throng he would, indeed, show up.
About 10 minutes later, Freeney appeared through a side door and made his way to the microphone.
Given Freeney's very pleasant disposition, you would never guess he is battling a painful injury that could threaten to keep him out of the biggest game of the season. He said he's still taking it day by day, noting that he felt a lot better today than yesterday and continues to hope that he will awake tomorrow feeling 100 percent.
"Well, for me, the way I look at things, I never really worry," said Freeney. "This kind of thing is not in my hands. I just take it one day at a time. I just continue to focus my energy on positive things and getting my ankle right. It's day-to-day. It's hard for me to put numbers on it, percentages on it, of where exactly it is, but it's definitely getting there."
While Freeney maintains that he is keeping a positive attitude about the injury, he did acknowledge a definite level of frustration over the timing of it.
"You never want to get hurt, especially in the fourth quarter with two minutes left," said Freeney. "This is part of the game and this is what happens. No one knows when this type of thing is going to happen; you just have to think positively after the fact and just keep on getting better."
Wednesday injury report
Freeney wasn't the only Colts defensive starter not to participate in practice on Wednesday. Colts CB Jerraud Powers sat out with a left foot injury that kept him out of the AFC title game vs. the Jets. He, like Freeney, didn't appear at practice as both try to get healthy.
On Wednesday morning, Powers, a rookie from Auburn, indicated he was feeling better.
"I feel good," Powers said. "(The) soreness is almost out of it." He noted that swelling in the foot has also gone down.
Powers, a third-round pick, started 12 games at right cornerback in the regular season, notching 66 tackles, defending 10 passes and notching one interception. He started the Colts' divisional-round win vs. Baltimore before suffering the foot injury. A hamstring injury had hampered Powers toward the end of the regular season.
"I'm not certain how much the doctors are going to allow him to practice or what routine they have him going through, but he is moving along nicely," Colts head coach Jim Caldwell said Wednesday morning.
If Powers can't play, fellow rookie Jacob Lacey will likely step into his spot in the lineup. Lacey made nine starts in the regular season and filled in for Powers in the AFC title game. An undrafted free agent, Lacey has been a pleasant surprise, showing good ball skills, as evidenced by his 13 passes defended and three interceptions.
No other Colt missed practice or was limited in drills on Wednesday, though Indianapolis did list 17 players with various minor ailments.
The only Saints player to sit out practice on Wednesday was RB Lynell Hamilton, who wore a boot on his injured left ankle.
The following Saints were limited in practice: CB Randall Gay (foot), CB Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring), DE Bobby McCray (back, ankle), S Pierson Prioleau (quadriceps), WR Courtney Roby (knee), S Darren Sharper (knee), TE Jeremy Shockey (knee), DE Will Smith (groin), OT Zach Strief (shoulder) and LB Jonathan Vilma (knee). However, the Saints' media pool report indicated that starters Shockey, Sharper and Vilma "seemingly worked in every drill." Also, Gay intercepted a pair of scout-team passes.
PFW editor-in-chief Keith Schleiden contributed to his report.
Follow our coverage of Super Bowl XLIV all week, with features, columns, blogs and more.