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Early returns promising for Saints' Bush as he comes back from knee injury

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush is ahead of schedule in his return from knee surgery and should be 100 percent by the start of training camp next month.

Bush participated in three of the five practices during the Saints' weekend minicamp, and as he worked at running back and on punt returns, he showed no ill effects from the December surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee.

"I'm not trying to go out there and rip it up," Bush said. "But I am trying to get the feel back to cutting and all that stuff."

Bush was off to a productive start to his third NFL season before injuries knocked him out of six games in 2008. He still had 1,114 all-purpose yards and scored nine touchdowns -- two rushing, four receiving and three on punt returns.

"I think he's found his niche," Saints coach Sean Payton said of Bush. "He's been really explosive for us as a returner and as a runner and a receiver; he's been a big part to us running the football. Prior to his injury last year, he was having a great year. Certainly, I think we have a good role for him, and he feels very comfortable with what we're doing."

Bush and the rest of New Orleans' running backs will have to fill the void left by the release of Deuce McAllister, the franchise's all-time leading rusher.

Pierre Thomas was the Saints' leading rusher last season (625 yards and nine touchdowns on 129 rushes). Mike Bell, signed during last season, is competing with Thomas to be the power back who complements Bush's speed and elusiveness.

"I think we definitely have a good core group of running backs," Bush said. "Everybody that we have here right now is fully capable of stepping in and getting the job done. We're very confident about our group of running backs we have right now."

The Saints' primary focus during the offseason has been to upgrade the 23rd-ranked defense to provide better balance to the NFL's top-ranked offense. But Bush said the offense also can improve.

"We didn't make the playoffs last year, so we can get better," he said. "It's not just about the offense or the defense. It's about us as a team collectively winning. Whether it's the No. 1 offense or the No. 15 offense, whatever it is. It's collectively winning and not just individually or the offense doing well and the defense not doing as well. We want to collectively play well as a team."

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