Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bailey hopes to follow Barber, Woodson footsteps

Broncos-Bailey

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By ARNIE STAPLETON

AP Pro Football Writer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - Perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey didn't want a new team in 2011, just a new challenge.

After signing a four-year, $43 million contract to stay in Denver over the winter, Bailey arrived at training camp and was approached by new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen about also playing nickel back for the Broncos.

It's something Bailey, 33, had been willing to do for years. He's seen what that role has meant to Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber and Green Bay's Charles Woodson.

So, on passing downs, Cassius Vaughn will take over Bailey's left cornerback spot and Bailey will slide inside to cover the slot receiver, putting him closer to the line of scrimmage to be even more of a playmaker.

We had that thought in mind from Day 1, being able to move Champ inside,'' Allen said.I've seen some other bigger, more veteran corners go in there and do that and be successful. So I think, especially with his experience -he's seen a lot of football (and) there's a lot of things that go on there at the nickel position - putting him in there made a lot of sense.''

The idea is to get Bailey closer to the action and also turn him loose on the blitz.

``Absolutely, and when you look at third down, a lot of teams are working inside and trying to work the slot receiver, and we put our best guy in there,'' Allen said.

Bailey leads all active cornerbacks with 48 interceptions but owns just three career sacks.

One reason Bailey is embracing the challenge is he knows what it's meant to the careers of Barber and Woodson.

Barber has played nickel back throughout his career and leads NFL cornerbacks with 26 career sacks.

Woodson was considered past his prime when he joined the Packers on the cusp of his 30th birthday five years ago, but the switch to nickel back revived his career and rejuvenated the Packers defense. Eight of his 13 1/2 career sacks have come with the Packers, as have 30 of his 47 career interceptions.

Bailey, whose 10 Pro Bowls are a record for a cornerback, has only gotten better with age. And as a result, he's not challenged that much. He has just nine interceptions over the last four years combined after collecting 10 in 2006. It's not because he's lost a step; it's just that quarterbacks usually don't dare test him

Teams might have no choice but to challenge him more often this season.

Yeah, I think so, because typically most teams put their best player in there a lot to get some matchups, because some teams put their third-best corner in there,'' Bailey said.But on this team it's going to be different. I'll be in there and they're going to have to try to find ways to get that guy the ball, so I will get more opportunities.''

Without being prompted, Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell praised Bailey this week when asked about the prospect of facing the Broncos' new pass-rushing duo of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller in the final game of opening weekend at Mile High on Monday night.

Oh man, they're astounding. I look at their defense on film and it looks totally different than last year's,'' Campbell said.You look at Champ Bailey and he looks like a young 27-year-old cornerback running around out there making plays. He's not afraid to stick his head in there and make the big hit. There's a reason he's been around so long and gets so many accolades. I just think the guy is a playmaker and he definitely looks like he's got something on his chest to prove.

``He's already a great player as it is, but the guy looks phenomenal on film.''

Then, Campbell got around to discussing the speed edge rushers that will try to sandwich him in the opener. Dumervil led the league with 17 sacks in 2009 before missing all of last season with a torn chest muscle, and the Broncos sorely missed him last season, collecting just 23 sacks as a team and producing a paltry 18 takeaways.

The Broncos' franchise-worst 4-12 mark left them with their highest draft pick ever, and they used the No. 2 overall selection to scoop up Miller, who had 10 1/2 sacks as a senior at Texas A&M after leading the country with 17 in `09.

Bailey has long maintained that even Superman couldn't cover receivers long enough with a deficient pass rush. Now, he has what could be the best 1-2 punch in the NFL making things harder on offenses and easier on the Broncos' secondary.

I'm excited, because I've never played with a team that had that consistent pass rush, and playing with these guys, it's going to be amazing, because quarterbacks won't have much time,'' Bailey said. Dumervil and Millerknow that guys are going to be chipping them and doing crazy things like that, but it just makes coverage that much simpler because you don't have to cover as many guys because they've got to keep them in to protect.''

With Miller and Dumervil up front and a coaching staff that's willing to let him play the nickel, Bailey is expecting big things this year.

I've got to study more and prepare a lot more, because it's different,'' Bailey said.But I've been open to it for years now, and finally I've got a staff that wants me to do it.''

Notes: WR Demaryius Thomas didn't practice Thursday. He is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon but the Broncos chose not to put him on the PUP list and instead placed him on the 53-man roster to start the season. ... Brian Dawkins, 37, on becoming just the third NFL safety to play 16 seasons: ``Dead serious with you, in my mind, I don't know how old I am, I just go play. I don't think about age, I don't think about how these guys are 10, 15, 12 years younger than me. I don't think about that. I just go out and play. Whatever I can do along the way to help them hopefully play if not as long but close to as long as I am, I'll do it.''


Connect with AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton at http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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