Depth at safety is something the Buffalo Bills didn’t have much of last season.
That turned out not to matter because starters Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer played every game at a high level. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop General Manager Brandon Beane from improving the team’s insurance policy at the position.
Enter Rafael Bush.
An eighth-year veteran, the 31-year-old Bush was signed just days into the start of free agency after spending last season with the New Orleans Saints.
“I thought Brandon and his staff did a nice job of identifying Rafael as one of our types of guys,” coach Sean McDermott said. “I know he’s been on a couple different teams, I get all of that, but from what I’ve seen so far, he’s a darn good football player. I know it’s not fancy, but it’s effective.”
“So I’ve been very positive, very pleased with the way he has shown us what he can do up to this point.”
Bush made his preseason debut with the Bills on Thursday night against Carolina, finishing with two tackles on defense and one on special teams in a 28-23 loss to the Carolina Panthers at New Era Field.
Bush started his professional career with the Atlanta Falcons, who signed him as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina State. He spent the majority of the 2010-11 seasons on the Falcons’ practice squad before the Denver Broncos added him to their 53-man roster. He has spent five of the past six seasons with the Saints, save a one-year move to Detroit in 2016.
“It's been going well. It's not my first time changing teams, having to go to an entire different city, different scheme,” Bush said. “I've been around for a while, so I've been able to adapt to different teams. It hasn't been difficult for me, I'm just going to do my job and let my play do the talking. That's how I earn my respect. I'm not really a rah-rah guy. I'm not going to say much, but those pads come on, man, and my teammates respect me. That's the most important thing.”
Bush has consistently made big plays during training camp. Second-year cornerback Tre’Davious White said he leads the defense in takeaways during practice, adding, “Rafael Bush can ball, man.”
During Monday’s practice at St. John Fisher College, Bush was in the right place at the right time, snatching an interception out of the air after the ball bounced off rookie receiver Robert Foster’s hands and returning it for a pick-six.
“It just comes in the scheme of the defense,” he said. “When those plays come to you, the easiest part is just to make it. A lot of guys get in those positions, and they don't make the play. My biggest thing is to first be in position, do my job, and then make the play. That's what you've seen throughout camp.”
Bush appeared in 14 games last season for the Saints, but did not make any starts. He made 22 tackles, one sack and one pass defensed, but his role was minimized.
“Last year, the way the season ended, understanding my role there in New Orleans was kind of like the older guy,” Bush said. “They wanted to get their young guys on the field, so I understood that, but it was tough for me sitting on the sidelines, knowing I've still got a lot of football left – a lot of knowledge about the game. But I handled it professionally. I got a call from Buffalo fairly early (in free agency). It was a blessing.”
Bush made four tackles for the Saints in a blowout victory over the Bills in 2017.
“Maybe that was what did it,” he said of Buffalo’s interest. “Who knows? I only got 180 snaps last year, so I tried to make the most of them. You never know when your opportunity is going to come. I want to be able to take advantage of that and make people have to make hard decisions. Everything I've ever got in my nine years, I had to earn it. It's nothing new for me. I've had the same mentality since I was a rookie, and I'm going to keep that mentality.
Listening to Bush speak, it’s easy to see how he fits what McDermott looks for in a player.
“I'm just trying to earn my respect,” he said. “My biggest objective is to come out here and be better than I was yesterday. When I lay down at night, I can ask myself, 'Did I get better today?' I can be honest with myself and say yes or no. ... I just have to keep grinding and we'll see where it takes me.”