Friday, December 6, 2013
Bailey: 'I've never had anything like this'
By Jeff Legwold
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Champ Bailey thinks his left foot is ready and that he can do his part for the Denver Broncos' defense as the team approaches the stretch drive.
But Bailey has to believe the foot is ready -- really believe it.
"It is a thing that has healed pretty good," he said. "I'm just not confident in it yet. That's pretty much what it boils down to.”
Champ Bailey had missed only 14 games in his 14 previous seasons before missing nine games this season.
Bailey has an expansive football résumé that includes 12 Pro Bowl selections, 52 career interceptions and countless games of unquestioned lockdown work. But in 15 seasons, he hasn't experienced anything like the 2013 season.
Since suffering a left foot injury in a preseason loss in Seattle, Bailey has largely been a spectator this season. He has played in just three games, including last Sunday in Kansas City. It is the first time he has missed more than seven games in any season. In fact, Bailey had missed just 14 games in his previous 14 seasons combined.
"Well, I have expectations in my head, but I'm trying to be smart and just make sure I make the right decision with what is in front of me and not try to project what is going to happen," Bailey said. "Just kind of take it for what it is and just try to keep getting better. Of course it is frustrating, but it is what it is. I can handle it like I handle most things -- just a little bit of patience."
Bailey missed the first five games of the season before returning for the Broncos' win against Jacksonville in Week 6. But in Indianapolis in Week 7, Bailey made a sudden move on a first-and-10 play with 4 minutes, 54 seconds left in the second quarter. He felt the sting in his left arch once again, slamming his helmet to the turf before he went to the sideline.
Sunday's game against Kansas City was his first since that night and Bailey, who has almost never looked tentative in his career, looked hesitant at times, as if he was hoping the foot would hold up. He took an elbow to his midsection as he made a tackle on the second play, a "now what?" sort of play that put him on the sideline for four plays before he went back in the lineup.
He played just 30 of the defense's 72 snaps and had four tackles before being pulled. And a player whose confidence has been unshakable against the best receivers in the league appeared to have lost some of it.
"The biggest thing for us is we just want to see guys give everything they have, compete as hard as they can, then take the opportunity they've had and then grow from it -- even an accomplished player," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "Clearly he was a little rusty in terms of not feeling comfortable and being at his best. He's a 12- or 13-time Pro Bowl player. He's an excellent football player, but everybody needs to sharpen their skills ... we expect him to be a week better."
Said Bailey: "Yeah, I think I got to the point where I knew I needed to shut it down. That was the decision we made and we live with it. My thing now is just to get my body and my mind right and just try to keep getting better.”
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Bailey was used mostly in the nickel package (five defensive backs) against the Chiefs. He believes he's ready for a bigger workload this weekend against the Titans, but there is the possibility the Broncos will use him as a situational player until they see more from him. He practiced fully on Thursday.
"I'm better," Bailey said. "I think it was a good test last week to see where I was. I'm obviously not where I want to be. It's just trying to be patient with it.”
Asked if the injury will need surgery following the season, Bailey said: "No, I don't think so." But asked if he would be 100 percent in what is ahead for the Broncos, he added: "I know I won't be. That is something I'll have to live with. I can't remember a year that I've been 100 percent healthy. It is just another thing to deal with.”
A player who has done virtually everything he can do except play in a Super Bowl is now a part of one of the league's best teams. But his body has not cooperated, even though he had prepared it with his offseason workouts. It is a cruel side of a cruel game for a player his former coach, Mike Shanahan, has called the "ultimate pro."
"I always want to be out there, that's always been my mindset, even in practice, I've never liked sitting out of practice," Bailey said. "I've never had anything like this, this is the first time for me for something like this. I want to be there for this defense, for this team, because you always want to play for a team that has a chance and with a guy like Peyton [Manning] at quarterback, you're always going to be a team with a chance. All I can do is keep working, keep getting treatment and keep preparing myself, so that's what I'm doing."