METAIRIE, La. — The optimistic tweets began to grow the longer New Orleans’ game against went.
The Saints’ safeties were playing well, showing athleticism and ball skills most thought didn’t exist.
Only, they were watching Rafael Bush and Isa Abdul-Quddus, not Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper.
“Both of them when they come in, all they’ve done is make plays,” Jenkins said. “If they can continue to do that and just create that depth for us, it makes our depth a lot better.”
With Jenkins on injured reserve with a hamstring injury and Harper playing a portion of games at a hybrid linebacker position, it’s likely that the Bush-Quddus combo will continue seeing the light of day, including Sunday when the Saints (6-8) travel to play Dallas (8-6).
In just two games, Bush and Quddus have matched the interception total (3) of Jenkins and Harper.
Additionally, Quddus has 29 tackles and a fumble recovery to go with seven special teams tackles. Bush, meanwhile, has 10 tackles, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble in limited playing time. He also is second on the team with 11 special teams tackles and has a fumble recovery there, too.
It’s what the duo did on special teams that has caught the eye of the coaching staff.
“I think when you have a young defensive player and all of a sudden you see him on the coverage teams, you see him on the return teams, you see the courage, you see the play making in space, now it is the natural evolution to go play defense or offense,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said.
Special teams coach Greg McMahon believes, in fact, that if a player can’t cut it on special teams, they’re going to have a hard time making it on the regular teams.
“It all ties in together,” McMahon said. “There is no question, if a guy can’t go out and play special teams, then he is going to have a hard time playing defense or offense.”
Both Quddus and Bush came into the league as undrafted rookie free agents. But they’ve taken different paths to the playing field.
Quddus earned a spot on the Saints’ roster immediately in spite of missing offseason conditioning and minicamps because of the labor dispute. He played in all 16 games, starting one, and finished with nine tackles and a forced fumble.
Bush, on the other hand, was signed by the Falcons in 2010 and was on and off that team’s practice squad. He ended up on Denver’s roster in October 2011 but was waived this year by the Broncos. New Orleans picked him up in September and he has been with the Saints ever since, becoming a key part of the special teams cover units.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to get thrown out there to the wolves at first,” Bush said. “I just had to prove to myself that I was able to take care of the responsibility given to me.”
Neither had a problem staying focused long enough late into the season to play well when they were thrust into the lineup.
“You’ve got to be ready,” Bush said. “It’s a long season and there’s a lot of injuries that happen within 16 games. You’ve got to stay on point and make sure you’re doing what you need to do because you never know when your time or number is going to be called.”
Added Quddus, “We do a great job with our scout team in practice so it’s not as fast as you’d think it would be on game day. I’m pretty much prepared for what I’m going to see and I just try to take it one play at a time and not let it overwhelm me.”
Both are looking to prove that they can be every down players and the way they handled the Tampa Bay game should go a long way in helping them get that idea across.
Bush had four tackles, an interception and a pass defensed while Quddus had five tackles, an interception and two passes defensed.
According to Pro Football Focus, the two youngsters are rated in the top quarter of the league based on their metrics, both recording positive seasons to this point.
For now, Bush isn’t looking towards the future, just the final two games of the season.
“We’ve just got to go out there and just make plays,” Bush said. “We’ve got to do our part. We can’t worry about have we proven ourselves to be able to be an every down safety. I would like to be an every down safety; that’s the goal at the end of the day. That’s not our decision.”