ALAMEDA The packages arrived in the mail a week or so before the NFL draft in April.
Inside, every NFL team received a DVD and a letter from renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews as evidence that Louisville running back Michael Bush was NFL-ready.
Andrews wrote that Bush was "99 percent healed" from the broken right leg he sustained the first game of his senior season, adding that Bush was almost the same player he was before requiring two surgeries and the insertion of a titanium rod in his leg.
The campaign backfired. All 32 teams passed on Bush the first three rounds of the seven-round draft, including an Atlanta Falcons team coached by Bobby Petrino, Bush's coach at Louisville.
Ultimately, the Raiders selected Bush with the first pick of the fourth round but after 99 other players had their names called. Many so-called experts called the selection of Bush "the steal of the draft," though the Raiders aren't likely to reap any dividends until 2008 or beyond.
"I was a little disappointed by the draft, but that's OK," Bush said after a recent team practice he watched from the sideline. "Oakland's my home. Now I just come out here and show the guys that they missed out on something good. Right now, I'm just glad to be in this situation."
A year ago, Bush was in a situation unlike anyone else in college. He was fresh from a junior season in which he rushed 1,143 yards and an NCAA-best 23 touchdowns. He entered his senior season as
a strong Heisman Trophy candidate and a projectedtop-10 draft pick.
That vanished in an instant, or in the time it took for a Kentucky defender to snap Bush's leg on a horse-collar tackle in the third quarter of Louisville's opener. Bush had 128 yards and three touchdowns by that time.
Pro teams weren't sure what to make of Bush's long-term prognosis. The Buffalo Bills selected running back Willis McGahee in the first round of the 2003 draft despite McGahee's sustaining a serious knee injury in his final collegiate game.
McGahee, now with the Baltimore Ravens, sat out his rookie season but rushed for more than 1,100 yards each of his next two seasons and 990 last season.
"It's a very risky proposition for a club to take a letter from Dr. Andrews, even though he's regarded as one of the top handful of surgeons in the country," former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese said in a predraft interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I would have to bring (Bush) in, have my doctors look at him, run all the tests and have my doctors tell me what they thought of him physically. Not only where he is today, but what's he going to be a year from now.
"Unless I could get real strong evidence, I think I would really shy away. It's a scary injury. And it's sad because this kid had a chance to be a terrific football player and still might be. It's going to take a lot of work and dedication."
The Raiders and Bush have time on their side. Bush is scheduled to resume full-contact drills in two months or so, long before the regular season begins.
"All we've been told by our doctors and their doctors, we believe he'll be ready for training camp (which opens July 27)," Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said. "He'll be ready to go, and he'll be ready to do all the drills. So we really can't ask for more than that, and, obviously, he'll be a great addition to our team."
For now, the Raiders have veterans LaMont Jordan, Dominic Rhodes and Justin Fargas ahead of Bush on the depth chart.
"I like that, knowing that they don't need me to come and step in, so I can just take my time, make sure I'm 100 percent healthy and then get in there and play," Bush said.
Bush, 6-foot-1 and 243 pounds, has been compared to the likes of Tennessee's LenDale White, the New York Giants' Brandon Jacobs and the Cleveland Browns' Jamal Lewis. He has the size and strength to run inside and enough speed to break free on the perimeter.
Still, Petrino passed on Bush, even though he had more knowledge than any of his coaching peers about Bush's talent and long-term outlook.
"That was a tough break," Petrino said of Bush's injury, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before the draft. "Michael was in the best shape that he has ever been in. ... If he had continued to play, he would have put himself in position in the run for the Heisman."
Petrino added that he expects Bush to be a successful pro as long as he recovers as well as expected by Andrews and those close to Bush.
"If you are looking for a guy who is a great athlete, that's Michael Bush," Petrino said.