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Low Profile, Top Pro File

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Times Staff Writer

Reggie Bush won’t be running a 40-yard dash at this week’s NFL scouting combine, but it’s clear that the wheels in his head are turning at top speed.

The former USC running back met with reporters at the RCA Dome on Thursday and didn’t hesitate a moment when asked what he knows about Houston, owner of the No. 1 pick in April’s draft.

“No state tax,” he said, easing into a big smile.

But to realize that colossal payday -- more than $20 million guaranteed for the first player chosen -- Bush knows he needs to concentrate on the now. That’s why he has passed on more than a dozen marketing opportunities since the Rose Bowl, opting to focus his attention on securing a place with the Texans atop the draft.

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“He could have had a million dollars in his pocket already,” said Reebok’s Mike Ornstein, an advisor to Bush’s marketing team. “He’s concentrating on football, getting ready for the draft.”

Matt Leinart, Bush’s quarterback at USC and another potential early pick, has been more in the public eye during the last month. Although Leinart too has made preparing for the draft his full-time job, he has made some high-profile appearances since the Rose Bowl, among them a promotional trip to Detroit and an NFL Network commercial that aired during the Super Bowl.

Bush said he has had similar opportunities, but “the limelight is not as important to me as being the No. 1 draft pick.”

“That doesn’t go to say that Matt’s not focused,” he said. “But I just felt to accomplish this goal those were some of the things I needed to cut out. Because I’ve had every opportunity possible to be on TV, be in commercials. ... At the end of the day, I’ve got to be focused, and that starts now.”

Bush, Leinart and Texas quarterback Vince Young, each of whom could be the first player picked, all opted not to work out at the combine. They are, however, here to undergo physical and psychological examinations and be available for interviews with individual teams. Their workouts are being saved for their colleges’ pro-timing days. USC’s is April 2, and -- in part because other Trojan prospects will be working out too -- figures to draw coaches, scouts and executives from every NFL team.

Bush said one of his main objectives is to convince skeptics that, despite his size, he has what it takes to be an every-down back in the pros.

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“I can still carry the load and be in there when the game is on the line,” he said. “Obviously, I’m going to want the ball in my hands. I’m a playmaker.”

But in a few critical situations during the Rose Bowl, it was LenDale White -- not Bush -- carrying the ball for USC. Bush said people have asked him about that a lot since that game, a 41-38 loss to Texas.

“We have so many talented guys, so many guys on the team that are able to go in there and break the game open at any time,” he said. “They just felt like LenDale could take care of the job at that time. It has nothing to do with me not being able to do it; they just wanted him in there.

“Obviously, when the game’s on the line, like I said, I want the ball. I’m a competitor. ... It’s the coach’s decision ultimately, and it would have been completely wrong for me to go in there and make a fuss about it.”

It would be “almost an impossibility” for the 5-foot-11, 201-pound Bush to carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game for an entire season, said Phil Savage, general manager of the Cleveland Browns. But Savage, whose team has the 12th pick, said Bush could be a rookie star if he’s put in the right situation.

“Whichever team takes Reggie at the top of the draft, if they utilize him in the right way he can still be a Heisman Trophy winner at the pro level, even if he’s only touching the ball 10 or 15 times a game,” he said.

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Bush said that during the last month he has focused his efforts on getting bigger and stronger, and that in the coming weeks he plans to shift his attention to improving his already blistering-fast 40 times. He knows teams also are interested in how well he can block blitzing defenders.

“I feel like I can, and it’s something that I’m going to work even harder on to make sure that I’m fundamentally sound in that part of the game,” he said. “Coming from USC, we played in a pro-style offense, so we had to know our blitz pickup. I’m pretty familiar with it, obviously not to the extent of the NFL, but I have a pretty good knowledge of what it takes.”

Should he be selected No. 1, it would be the second consecutive year in which a player from Helix High in La Mesa, Calif., went first overall. A year ago, quarterback Alex Smith, a high school teammate of Bush’s, was chosen No. 1 by San Francisco.

“I think it would be great if that could happen,” Bush said. “It’d be great for our school, our high school, and San Diego. But obviously ... this is a dream. I remember talking about this day when I was a little kid in Pop Warner football.”

In the last 25 years, only three running backs have been selected No. 1 overall: George Rogers, Bo Jackson and Ki-Jana Carter.

Rogers had a decent career; Jackson was spectacular but lasted only four seasons; Carter was an injury-prone bust.

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Bush is confident he can reverse that trend.

“I know what I can do,” he said. “... I don’t know what happened to the other past running backs and why they weren’t successful and what they did, but I know that I’m going to be successful and I won’t fail.”

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