Friday, January 10, 2014
When a captain does more than wear the C
By Jeff Legwold
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Captains are leaders, they set the tone, keep the train on the tracks. They have the votes to wear the C on their jerseys, they push when a push is needed, sometimes they pull to make sure everybody keeps up.
And for two of the Denver Broncos' captains that has meant an adjustment with their own parts of the big picture.
There's Champ Bailey, 12-time Pro Bowler who has never had a question mark next to his name as a starter until this season. And there's Wesley Woodyard, the first player since Hall of Famer Floyd Little to have been named a captain in his first five seasons with the team even before he was named captain yet again in this, his sixth season.
And neither is a defensive starter for the Broncos these days. In the Broncos search for answers on defense, a search that has taken most of the season, Bailey and Woodyard now find themselves as situational players handling their business with the same level of football professionalism they always have.
"Yeah it was definitely not how I scripted out in the preseason but injuries do that and it is what it is," Bailey said. "I'm moving forward. I'm happy about the role I'm in now. I think I'm effective there so whatever helps us get over that hump and win this first game.”
Bailey missed all but five games this season with a left foot injury he suffered in a preseason loss in Seattle. In his second game back in the lineup -- Oct. 20 in Indianapolis -- Bailey re-aggravated the injury and missed the next four games.
When he came back, again, against Kansas City Dec. 1, Bailey was not himself, said he didn't have "confidence" in his foot. The Broncos held him out two more games and when he returned the Broncos brought him back as the team's nickel cornerback with Chris Harris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the starting spots.
It means Bailey, a fixture on the outside, in the left cornerback spot, is now in the slot, working the middle of the field with skills he believes he can contribute to the job.
"I feel like I'm a good cover guy, I can tackle, you name it," Bailey said Thursday when asked when he can bring to the job. "I can do anything, what else do you want me to do?”
Granted, it was two struggling offenses, but the Broncos had two of their best defensive outings of the season in Weeks 16 and 17 when Bailey was in the nickel role as they allowed 255 and 240 yards to the Texans and Raiders respectively.
For Woodyard, who was moved into the middle linebacker spot early in the season because the Broncos needed him to, suffered a stinger in the Oct. 6 win over the Dallas Cowboys. He missed the next two games and when he returned the Broncos thought something was missing as the defense continued to struggle at times in its base 4-3 look against opposing running games.
So, the Broncos moved Woodyard out of the base defense, cutting his snaps some, with the belief he would play that much better in the nickel and other specialty packages.
"And I just come to work to be the same Wesley Woodyard, I've always been," Woodyard said. "If you're a leader, you're a leader, not just sometimes. I feel like I'm one of the leaders and I feel like that means you're an example, you do what needs to be done."
The Broncos have other players who were long-time starters in the their careers in other places, players such as cornerback Quentin Jammer, safety Michael Huff and even Rodgers-Cromartie -- he's had three games with 32 or fewer snaps this season -- who have played in different roles as the Broncos have dealt with a variety of injuries to go with some struggles in slowing opposing offenses along the way.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said it's been a necessity as the Broncos had just two players -- Harris and linebacker Danny Trevathan -- top 900 snaps this season. That is a far different look than the Broncos sported last year when they had eight players top 900 snaps.
Del Rio believes it takes a player willing to look at the whole plan to see what's needed and that not every veteran player is up to the task.
"I think that's just the natural progression of it," Del Rio said. "Some people do it well and are very professional and great teammates and remain that and some struggle with that. We're fortunate that we have guys here that understand that winning the game is most important -- understanding what they need to get done for us on Sunday is what's most important. Sometimes you have to put personal ambitions aside and think more in terms of the team and less in terms of your individual self.”
"All that matters is winning games," Bailey said. " ... It's different, not something I expected, but I've always said individual things are great, Pro Bowls and all that, but I want a ring, I want to play for a ring and you need a team to do that."