NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Reggie the role-player?

The New Orleans Saints aren’t about to complain.

Two games into his young but heavily hyped NFL career, Reggie Bush hasn’t scored a touchdown. He hasn’t even had a run or reception as long as 25 yards. His longest punt return was 14 yards.

But don’t call him overrated. At 2-0, the rebuilding Saints already are only one victory shy of last season’s total – and Bush’s teammates and coaches consider him a big reason why.

“I’m not as worried about his scores. I’m just worried about are we scoring?” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He understands and appreciates what defenses can do. He’s done a good job handling this week by week in his rookie season.”

While the touchdowns and gaudy statistics have yet to materialize, his supreme athletic talent has been evident – even on short, drive-sustaining gains when he makes a difficult one-handed catch over his head and turns upfield in an instant, or accelerates past an initial tackler on a first-down run.

And he clearly has defenders’ attention, a situation that creates space for the Saints’ traditional offensive weapons such as Deuce McAllister and Joe Horn, as well as Bush’s fellow rookie, receiver Marques Colston.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons on offense, and obviously Reggie’s a big part of that,” quarterback Drew Brees said after practice Wednesday as the Saints prepared for their Monday night home opener against Atlanta. “Wherever he is on the field, defenses definitely need to be worried because he is a matchup problem for them.”

Before Bush’s arrival, McAllister was often expected to get around 30 carries a game. He has 34 through two games, but he’s averaging 4 yards per carry and has two touchdowns, including a key 23-yarder against Green Bay last weekend.

“You’ve got to account for him. You know he has that type of ability,” McAllister said of Bush. “What type of defenses are you going to play when he’s in the game? What type of defense are you going to play when he and I are in the game? It’s been able to open up some different things for us offensively. … I know he’s going to help me with my career and make me a better player.”

How to cover Bush is something Falcons coach Jim Mora has been trying to figure out this week. He found preparing for Heisman Trophy winner somewhat reminiscent of preparing for Michael Vick before he became Vick’s head coach.

Maybe a little tougher.

“Reggie’s carrying the ball more. Reggie’s returning punts. He’s going to get a lot of opportunities,” Mora said. “Reggie Bush can line up anywhere on the field and that creates problems. A lot of hype about Reggie Bush, and well deserved. In the few carries you’ve seen Reggie Bush have so far, you certainly see signs of greatness.”

Perhaps if the Saints had begun 0-2, Bush might be more prone to grumble a little. Yet for now, the man who provided a bonanza of long scoring plays for highlight shows in college even talks like the consummate role player.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily about making the big plays every time you touch the ball or making the flashy plays,” Bush said. “It’s just more about being effective, being a team leader, being there for your team and when you get your opportunities make the most of them. Don’t turn the ball over. And by doing those little things, you help your team win.”

The sellout crowd and the national TV audience for Monday night’s game at the Louisiana Superdome will be waiting impatiently for Bush to break the big one. And even Bush acknowledges it could be a struggle for him to play it safe all game long.

“I want to score badly,” Bush said. “Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s a bad thing. It’d be great, trust me, and I love nothing more than scoring touchdowns.”

Brees said Bush has been close to breaking long runs two or three times in each of his first two games.

Horn’s advice to his celebrated teammate? Patience, young man.

“He has other playmakers around him,” said Horn, whose 57-yard reception set up a field goal last Sunday. “He has a team that can help him, and when he does get in the open field and he has an opportunity to show what he can really do, then he will.”

AP-ES-09-21-06 1550EDT

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