INDIANAPOLIS -- Champ Bailey is a future Hall of Famer. But he’s also a realist.
So the New Orleans Saints cornerback knows full well that he has to show his new team enough reason to put him in the lineup on Week 1.
Bailey hopes he finally started to do that this week after recovering from what he described as a minor foot injury.
“Yeah, I do have to prove what I can do,” Bailey said. “Even though I’ve played 15 years, it doesn’t matter. Man, this is a production business. I think every guy going into training camp has to show what he can do. And, you know, I feel good. If they like what I do, then I’ll play a lot on Sundays. Plain and simple.”
So far, so good, after Bailey played about 15-20 snaps in his preseason debut on Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts. He entered the game in the second quarter, working with a mix of starters and backups. And he wasn’t targeted once by Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, finishing with one assisted tackle on a short pass to a tight end.
I mentioned to Bailey that I barely noticed him Saturday since the ball never seemed to be thrown near his side of the field. When I suggested that’s probably a good thing, Bailey said, “Hell, yeah. You know, that’s always good. Unless I’m making big plays.”
It’s worth noting that Patrick Robinson got the starting nod over Bailey on Saturday, even though both players were coming back from injuries. They’re battling for snaps opposite No. 1 starter Keenan Lewis. And so far, Robinson may be ahead in that battle, both because he has been in New Orleans longer and because he has shown more throughout training camp.
It’s still a pretty even competition, though, and both guys could wind up seeing the field in certain packages, along with physical corner Corey White.
Bailey, who signed an incentive-laden deal with the Saints this offseason after being released by the Denver Broncos, said he’s felt good about his performance when he’s been on the field this summer -- including a solid stretch during OTAs, minicamp and the first few days of training camp before he suffered the injury.
Bailey said it’s been tough to be out of action for so long. But he said it was the best thing long-term.
When I asked him if the long hiatus was a “play it safe and smart kind of thing,” Bailey said it was “a get healthy kind of thing.”
“It was just one of those things where I’ve just gotta make sure I’m right before I go out there,” Bailey said. “And the good thing was the timing of it was probably good because I had time to get right. I want to be out there with the guys, but obviously this is preseason. So we want to make sure we got all our bullets when it comes to the first game.”
That wound up being the Saints’ approach with a number of veteran players, even though coach Sean Payton said some of that was coincidental because of the timing and nature of certain injuries.
Quarterback Drew Brees, safety Jairus Byrd, guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and receiver Kenny Stills also made their preseason debuts on Saturday night -- though Stills exited after re-injuring his quadriceps.
Byrd, who only began full-contact work this week after having summer back surgery, also said he felt good in his return to the lineup. Although he didn’t snag any interceptions like the two he picked in practice Wednesday night, Byrd did shown nice burst and physicality on one open-field tackle, in particular.
"I'm just thankful to finally be out there, dust the rust off a little bit and just get with my teammates," Byrd told the media after the game.
When asked if he felt any rust, Byrd said not much.
"Obviously you want to get the hits out of the way. Everything felt real smooth,” Byrd said.