(Photos by Luc Leclerc / US…)
Reporting from Jacksonville, Fla. — The last time Los Angeles saw them together, USC's Reggie Bush was a superstar, and UCLA's Maurice Jones-Drew (whose surname was then simply Drew) was an afterthought.
Bush was the Lakers, Jones-Drew the Clippers.
Bush was Hollywood, Jones-Drew was Westwood.
On Dec. 3, 2005, when USC delivered a 66-19 crosstown thrashing at the Coliseum, Bush finished with 260 yards and, essentially, the Heisman Trophy. Jones-Drew had a respectable by unremarkable 84 yards and a touchdown.
But since they got to the NFL in 2006, Bush chosen second overall by New Orleans and Jones-Drew taken 60th by Jacksonville, these two backs have run a stunning reverse.
It's Jones-Drew who's the feature back and a better pro, and Bush who's largely the third-down and situational player.
Although Bush has made some spectacular plays as a runner, receiver and returner -- and is competing for touches with a lot of talented teammates -- Jones-Drew is the centerpiece of his team's offense. The career touchdown tally after 3 1/2 seasons: Bush 30, Jones-Drew 52.
An NFL personnel director, who does not work for the Saints or Jaguars and spoke on condition of anonymity, said there is "no question" that Jones-Drew would be selected before Bush if there were a draft re-do, and said the UCLA standout would be taken in the top 10, whereas Bush probably would go in the late first or early second.
Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio credits Kennedy Pola, the team's running backs coach, with developing Jones-Drew into an all-around pro, noting in particular the player's evolution as a spectacular blocker.
Pola, who also happened to coach Bush at USC, said the Bruins "didn't use [Jones-Drew] like we use him now. They had a different style of offense. Maurice will tell you, he never got in a wide receiver stance. I empty him out a lot now. I use him a lot like we used Reggie. We even use a lot of the same terms."
Pola, who called coaching both players "an unbelievable blessing," had recruited them both to USC and gave some surprising insight about Coach Pete Carroll's views on a young Jones-Drew as a college prospect.
"I needed to sign a few running backs, and I remember telling Pete Carroll, 'Look, I can't lose Reggie and LenDale [White] if Maurice comes too. Can we take all these guys? What happens if Maurice commits and the other two say they don't want to come then?'
"And Pete says, 'Hey, I'm OK with that.' "