NFL Nation: Champ Bailey

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The 100-yard interception return against the New England Patriots in the AFC divisional round game following the 2005 season is a play Champ Bailey said people still ask him about.

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The Patriots were the defending Super Bowl champs, Bailey was coming off a eight-interception regular season and the touchdown that followed the interception one play later essentially closed the deal for the Broncos as they moved on to the AFC Championship Game.

“So, I can see why people talk about it with me," Bailey said this week.

Wednesday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick recalled Bailey’s career. Bailey formally announced his retirement from the NFL on Tuesday.

“Champ was great and unique in the fact he could match up with pretty much anybody -– fast guys, quick guys, big guys, physical receivers," Belichick said. “He had the skill set, anticipation and awareness to play inside in the slot and could play outside on the perimeter. Really a complete player that matched up well against pretty much whoever he covered."

Bailey had two career interceptions – one in the regular season to go with the one in the playoffs – against Belichick-coached teams.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Champ Bailey is just over seven months removed from his release by the Denver Broncos.

Harris
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But that was still more than enough time to heal those vocational wounds. Because Bailey, who formally announced his retirement Tuesday, is an NFL fan these days and one who has thrown his support squarely behind his former team.

“They’re just fantastic, man. I’m cheering them every weekend,’’ Bailey said. “I’m still a Broncos fan, I’m not going to lie. Regardless of how it went down, I’m always going to be a Bronco. They had a lot of faith in me, I hope they win it all, and they look good enough to do it. I still talk to a lot of those guys and want them to have it all.’’

Bailey played 135 of his 215 career regular-season games with the Broncos, 10 of his 15 seasons after the 2004 trade that shipped him from the Washington Redskins to Denver, a tenure that ended this past March when the Broncos released the 12-time Pro Bowl selection. The Broncos didn’t offer Bailey the opportunity to renegotiate the final year of his deal or ask him to switch positions.

Bailey said Tuesday the New Orleans Saints, where Bailey spent training camp, didn’t ask him to switch to safety, either.

“No team ever asked me to play safety, nobody ever asked me to,’’ Bailey said. “I made it a point to be clear I was open to it if I thought it was time … and maybe it was time. But people saw me as a corner, so I took it as a compliment.’’

And Bailey also reserved the highest of praise for a former teammate, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who eight months following ACL surgery is having his best all-around season as a pro. Harris has consistently credited Bailey’s mentoring as part of the reason why he has gone from undrafted rookie in 2011 to one of the best players at his position in the league.

“Chris is probably the closest guy to taking the techniques that I used and putting it on the field,’’ Bailey said. “He’s probably the closest thing I’ve seen, he just understood it … he worked it and took it to another level. I’m really proud of him.’’


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In a career filled with signature plays, of double-take athleticism combined with preparation and instincts, the one that may stand alone, because of the context, wasn’t one of Champ Bailey’s 52 career interceptions.

It wasn’t one of the times he baited a quarterback down the hash in an effort to get somebody, anybody, to throw the ball his way, only to flash a little more make-up speed to snare the ball as his own.

It wasn’t one of the innumerable battles with the best the league had to offer at wide receiver.

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesChamp Bailey's preparation skills and aggressiveness helped him become one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks.
It was a tackle. Because while the world of shutdown corners is one often played out in the open spaces where unshakable confidence and 4.3 speed are requirements for survival, Bailey, who retired on Tuesday, at his best was more than that.

Yes, in his prime he was on the short list in coverage with flexibility, speed, an eye for details and the willingness to study. He had no island or T-shirts or signature strut into the end zone.

Broncos Ring of Fame wide receiver Rod Smith once said, “Champ doesn’t say anything because he doesn’t have to. He knows you know you already didn’t get the ball."

But what separated Bailey from most who have played the position at its highest level, was that to go with all of those skills in coverage, Bailey would roll up his sleeves and get dirty in the run game. Former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan, having made the trade to bring Bailey to Denver for what became a 10-year run, called Bailey the “best tackling cornerback I’ve ever seen and one of the best players in coverage I’ve ever seen. Just a no-doubt Hall of Famer."

So, the tackle, on a sweltering September day -- 89 degrees at kickoff with 64 percent worth of energy-sapping humidity -- in Miami. It was the 2005 season opener, a game the Broncos would eventually lose, before winning enough games to go on to the AFC Championship Game four months later.

And on the first play of the second half, in a game in which Bailey already had seven tackles, an interception and a forced fumble, on a first-and-10 for the Dolphins from the Miami 35-yard line, running back Ronnie Brown, then a 223-pound rookie, rumbled around the right end into what was on other days also a dirt infield for the Marlins with no other Broncos defenders within range to stop him.

Bailey charged the line of scrimmage, stopping Brown in the dirt for a 5-yard gain with no yardage after contact as Bailey dislocated his shoulder doing it. It’s not that Bailey, a top-shelf cornerback, made the play. It’s that he was willing to make the play.

Bailey, who wore a brace on his shoulder for years after that tackle and many more just like it, always seemed to be at the center of discussions between what football people said and what those with analytics in hand had to offer. The football people saw an all-time player with instincts, athleticism and a quarterback’s recall for situations and personnel.

And at times those who have opened the window to analytics in the game saw a player who got beat deep and was challenged more in coverage than was often presented in the mainstream.

In the end perhaps everybody has a point. From my perspective I often fall back on the words of a man who essentially had the patience and willingness to unwrap the game in many ways for me -- longtime scout C.O. Brocato -- who has always said to trust your eyes.

I’ve seen lots of cornerbacks play, lots of cornerbacks folks have stuck the "shutdown" label to, both with and without numbers or game video in hand to make the case. I don’t profess to have THE list and respectfully acknowledge opinions of others that were gleaned from hard work.

But the two most complete cornerbacks I have seen are Rod Woodson and Champ Bailey. And I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s going to stay for quite some time.
The Baltimore Ravens apparently chose Dominique Franks over Champ Bailey in their search for cornerback help.

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Bailey tried out for the Ravens on Tuesday, according to ESPN's Field Yates. It's unlikely that the Ravens will sign the 12-time Pro Bowl defender because they added Franks to replace Asa Jackson, who is expected to go on the injured reserve-designated to return list after severely spraining his toe.

The Ravens were looking to add depth because they only had three cornerbacks on the roster: Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Chykie Brown.

The odds of Bailey ever playing in the NFL again appear to be quickly diminishing. Bailey, 36, struggled last season for the Denver Broncos (he was the 141st ranked safety by Pro Football Focus) and didn't play well this year for the New Orleans Saints in the preseason as he dealt with a foot problem.

He wasn't signed after trying out for the Detroit Lions before the start of the regular season. He has also said that he's willing to play safety.

The Ravens saw the decline of Bailey firsthand. In a 2012 AFC divisional playoff game, Bailey was burnt twice by Torrey Smith for touchdowns of 59 and 32 yards.
 

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions waited until the third day of the draft to select a cornerback. They didn’t make a splashy signing there in free agency, either.

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And as training camp wore on and now as the team enters the regular season, one thing is becoming clear: If there is an area of need on the roster, it appears to be at that position, which is not surprising or unfamiliar to the Lions.

The team has been digging around everywhere to try and find some cornerback help, from signing veteran Drayton Florence during camp only to release him during the first wave of cuts. Then on Wednesday, the Lions reportedly brought in some cornerbacks for a workout.

That was followed by Thursday morning, when the team chose to see what All-Pro Champ Bailey, who became a free agent Saturday, had left in him.

Listen, this is what the Lions should be doing. They know -- and have proven in the past -- that they are willing to try and upgrade their roster by whatever means necessary, especially in the secondary. They did that last season when they brought in Rashean Mathis, who ended up as a starter for Detroit, during training camp.

That signing worked out for them. The team appears to at least be hunting for someone who could do that again.

Bailey would be an intriguing move for the Lions if they ended up deciding to sign him because of what he could bring to a cornerback group that is lacking experience other than Mathis. Much like Mathis the season before, Bailey could end up mentoring second-year pro Darius Slay as the team hopes to groom him to be their next good cornerback.

Bailey also could provide assistance to rookie Nevin Lawson and third-year pro Bill Bentley, who has been inconsistent throughout his career.

There’s also the fact that if Bailey can still play at even close to the level he was even two years ago in Denver, when he was an All-Pro, he’ll be an upgrade for a Lions secondary that still appears to be somewhat of a weakness.

Whether the team ends up signing Bailey or not, though, it does show there is at least some concern about the depth of the Lions' cornerbacks and that they are looking for some improvement in the area.
Most significant move: Releasing cornerback Champ Bailey was the New Orleans Saints' biggest bombshell. But it ultimately shouldn't come as a shock. Bailey wasn't able to beat out fellow veteran Patrick Robinson for the No. 2 cornerback job. And for Bailey, it was probably a “starting job or bust” situation since he doesn't play special teams, and since the Saints are happy with their nickel/dime guys in safety Rafael Bush and cornerback Corey White. ... The big question mark is whether Robinson is the right choice. He had a nice camp at times, and the speedy athlete has shown as much big-play ability as anyone in the Saints' secondary during his turbulent five-year career. But Robinson has also battled injuries and inconsistency. If he can provide stability, New Orleans' secondary should he a huge strength.

Super loss: By cutting receiver Robert Meachem, the Saints now have only seven players remaining from their 2009 Super Bowl roster. They also parted ways with longtime veterans Lance Moore, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer and Roman Harper this year. But the writing was on the wall for Meachem when younger receiver Joe Morgan came back so strong from a knee injury. The two of them have a similar skill set as standout blockers and deep threats. I expect Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks and Joe Morgan to be the Saints' four active receivers when everyone is healthy. And while Stills nurses a quad injury that could keep him out in Week 1, the Saints still have promising young receiver Nick Toon available.

What's next: The Saints still have one glaring need since they went with "none of the above" in their kicker competition. Neither Shayne Graham nor Derek Dimke was consistent enough to lock down the job. I'm perfectly fine with that, especially when you consider the experienced veterans who are now available (Ryan Succop, Alex Henery, Connor Barth, Jay Feely, Rob Bironas, plus a number of young guys who had solid camps elsewhere). The question, however, is whether the Saints can develop trust in a new guy quickly enough. The Saints have had an itchy trigger finger regarding kickers over the years. So what happens if the guy they choose misses once or twice in September? ... To make room for the next kicker, the Saints will likely place either fullback Erik Lorig or linebacker Khairi Fortt on injured reserve -- possibly with a designation to return.

Saints moves: Terminated contracts of CB Champ Bailey, OLB Keyunta Dawson, K Shayne Graham, FB Greg Jones, WR Robert Meachem, OT Thomas Welch. Waived C Matt Armstrong, CB Derrius Brooks, WR Brandon Coleman, ILB Todd Davis, K Derek Dimke, CB Terrence Frederick, WR Charles Hawkins, TE Nic Jacobs, G Marcel Jones, WR Seantavious Jones, OT Tavon Rooks, RB Derrick Strozier, NT Lawrence Virgil, CB Trevin Wade, S Pierre Warren, T/G Jason Weaver.

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints missed their chance to finish undefeated in the preseason for the first time in franchise history, losing 22-13 to the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Obviously that doesn’t matter a lick, considering quarterback Drew Brees and about a dozen other starters sat out the final exhibition game.

So what did matter? I can’t say that any jobs were obviously won or lost on Thursday night. But here are the clues that stood out most:
  • I still have no idea who’s going to win the kicking job. Derek Dimke got all of the work Thursday, including kickoffs. However, he missed a 54-yard attempt wide right that might have helped him lock down the job. Fortunately, a roughing penalty was called, giving him a second chance at a 49-yard attempt, which he made. … That’s kind of how it has been for both Dimke and veteran Shayne Graham all summer -- mostly good, some bad, nothing definitive.
  • Luke McCown sure looks like the front-runner for the backup quarterback job. He started again (McCown played ahead of Ryan Griffin in all four exhibition games) and led the Saints to a touchdown on the opening drive, going 4-for-4 for 29 yards, including a 3-yard TD strike to Travaris Cadet. Griffin played the rest of the game after that first drive, but he was pretty ordinary, finishing 11-of-21 for 126 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
  • Receiver Joe Morgan has been getting better every week and might have moved ahead of both Nick Toon and Robert Meachem as the fourth receiver. Morgan started and caught four passes for 33 yards (one of them a great catch down the field). I would say Meachem’s job appears to be in jeopardy, as he has fallen behind those other guys in the playing-time pecking order. But sure enough, Meachem made a fantastic 52-yard catch Thursday to help remind the Saints why they’ve always liked him so much.
  • I’m almost positive Jonathan Goodwin has won the starting center job over Tim Lelito, as Goodwin got the night off, along with many other veteran starters.
  • If anyone could have possibly lost a starting job Thursday, it might be cornerback Patrick Robinson. The Ravens picked on him quite a bit, chipping away with several mid-range gains. Baltimore virtually ignored fellow veteran Champ Bailey on the other side of the field. I think that battle will remain fluid, but it’s possible Bailey could inspire more confidence heading into Week 1.
  • Of the undrafted rookies vying for roster spots, outside linebacker Kasim Edebali continued to look the part. He started in place of Junior Galette and was in on at least three of the starting special-teams units. Edebali didn’t have any dramatic highs or lows, but it’s obvious the Saints are giving him a serious look. … Meanwhile, safety Pierre Warren made two great plays with an open-field run stop and a leaping interception on an overthrown deep ball. But he wasn’t as involved on special teams, so he’s a slightly longer shot to crack the roster. … Cornerback Brian Dixon had a nice pass break-up and tight end Nic Jacobs was in with the starters at times. But they’re also long shots.
METAIRIE, La. -- Count Champ Bailey among those who believe New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis is too under-appreciated.

When asked where he thinks Lewis fits in with other elite corners in the league, Bailey said, "He's up there. It just takes you guys to start talking about him now."

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AP Photo/Bill HaberVeteran cornerback Champ Bailey says he has high expectations for the Saints' defense this season.
"I don't understand why he wasn't in the Pro Bowl last year, why he wasn't an All-Pro," Bailey said. "He played like one. Matching up every week (against opponents' top receivers), he was the guy. He is a proven No. 1 corner. I just told him to keep his nose down, keep grinding, and people will start to take notice."

True to form, Lewis' best play of the preseason didn't even get proper credit last week, when he appeared to make a diving interception after tipping a deep ball away from Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton. The pass was ruled incomplete, because coach Sean Payton said he figured it would be ruled inconclusive either way. But it sure looked like a pick from the end-zone camera angle.

When asked if he credited Lewis with an interception after watching the film of last week's game at Indianapolis, Bailey said, "I credited it that night."

"It looked pretty clean to me from where I was," Bailey said. "The ref was five feet away from him and didn't get it. I don't know what happened, but in our room he got a pick."

Bailey, who missed much of training camp with a minor foot injury, hadn't chatted with the media in a while. So the longtime former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins standout was peppered with questions on a number of topics Tuesday. Here are some of the highlights:
  • On whether his foot injury was related to the plantar fasciitis that kept him sidelined for much of the 2013 season: "Well not to get too specific, it was the same foot but it was a little bit different thing to deal with. It's encouraging, because I didn't want anything lingering from last year. I feel good about where I'm going."
  • On whether the injury has hurt his chances of being an opening-day starter: "I'm not really concerned about it. I haven't lost any sleep over it. The only thing that bothers me is being hurt, period. It has gotten in the way of me playing football. That's what I love to do. Regardless of how much I'm playing, I'm always out there competing like I'm the starter or going to be."
  • On his impressions of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, before he played for him and now: "All I knew was his brother, mostly. I've seen Rob before but never met him, never been around him. He's a character, but at the same time this guy knows football. It's proven; he's one of the best X's and O's guys I know in this league. He's going to make sure we're in the right places to make the right plays."
  • On how many defensive coordinators he's played for now: "Probably 13 maybe. Twelve, 13 something like that. I lost count. I had one of those guys twice in two different systems."
  • On safety Jairus Byrd: "I talked to him at the Pro Bowl a couple of years ago and I told him how much I wanted to play with him. Who would ever think we'd be playing here together? But we are, and I'm just happy to be a part of this team."
  • On cornerback Patrick Robinson: "Great football player. I've seen him do some things that some guys can't do. That guy is fast, quick, and he gets his hands on a lot of balls in practice. It's starting to pay off, all the work he's put in."
  • On whether the Saints are as good as last year's Broncos team: "I'm not sure. It's hard to compare. It's different. The thing is, last year we weren't good enough to win. I feel like we've got some pieces here to win it, we've just got to make sure we don't worry about too far ahead, just worry about what's in front of us. The rest will take care of itself."
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.

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 “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.

W2W4: New Orleans Saints

August, 23, 2014
8/23/14
12:00
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The New Orleans Saints (2-0) and Indianapolis Colts (0-2) will meet in the third preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium tonight, with the game televised nationally on CBS. Here’s What 2 Watch 4:

1. Look at the stars: Tonight’s game will be much closer to the real thing than New Orleans’ first two preseason outings. Quarterback Drew Brees will make his debut after missing the past two games with a strained oblique, and said he wants to get in a good groove since he’s not expected to suit up in Week 4 of the preseason. Safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Champ Bailey, guard Jahri Evans and receiver Kenny Stills are also expected to make their preseason debuts after recovering from various injuries. I’m very interested to finally see both the offense and defense intact for the first time -- especially against a quality opponent like the Colts in a game where the starters are expected to play about a full half of football. I hope rookie receiver Brandin Cooks is on the field after battling a stomach virus all week, because I’m anxious to see Brees out there with his full array of mismatches to choose from.

2. Secondary is primary: Finally, we’ll start to see what this highly-touted Saints secondary looks like with all of the veterans on the field together. I’m not actually sure how much we’ll get to see Byrd and Bailey since the Saints have been cautious with their recovery timetables. But Byrd certainly didn’t waste any time living up to his reputation as a ball hawk in full-team drills this past week, intercepting two passes and breaking up another in the end zone on just his second day of full participation. As for Bailey, I think his roster spot is pretty secure, but his starting job remains up for grabs against fellow dinged-up veteran Patrick Robinson and Corey White. As coach Sean Payton said of Bailey earlier this summer, the Saints don’t need to see it every day, but they do need to see it once in a while. A strong outing against Andrew Luck & Co. would help.

3. No yellow flags: Sure, penalties are up around the league. But the Saints have been turning it into an epidemic, with 10 of them in Week 1 and 22 last week (plus six others that were declined). Payton was seething after the game, refusing to dismiss the problem as “just the preseason” and suggesting that it’s a sign of poor discipline and poor coaching. Obviously the Saints will be looking to clean up their act so the issue of “sloppy play” isn’t hanging like a black cloud heading into the regular season. … The guys it’s probably most important for are the offensive linemen who are still jockeying for roster positions (be it centers Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin battling for a starting job, or guys like Bryce Harris, Marcel Jones and Senio Kelemete battling for backup roles).
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Drew Brees' strained oblique must have been one of those balance-in-the-universe things.

Although the New Orleans Saints quarterback is expected to be healed in plenty of time for the start of the regular season, the injury that has kept him sidelined for the past two weeks feels like one of those yin-and-yang type of deals. Like something had to go wrong to keep the Saints' training camp from going too smoothly.

Because aside from a handful of injury issues that have crept up this summer, the Saints' camp has been as idyllic as the cool mountain air in their new West Virginia training camp site.

Breakout young talents such as rookie receiver Brandin Cooks and second-year left tackle Terron Armstead have injected some new life into an offense that needed a boost in those two position groups. Meanwhile, the Saints' defense appears to be in better shape than ever during the Sean Payton-Brees era, with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan heading into his second season with even more talent at his disposal.

No, the image of Brees throwing passes to prized free-agent safety Jairus Byrd in street clothes before the start of the preseason opener wasn't exactly an awe-inspiring sight. But if they're both back to 100 percent by the start of the real opener, this team indeed has the feel of a bona fide Super Bowl contender.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Cooks has been everything that was advertised and then some. The first-round draft pick from Oregon State has repeatedly flashed his dynamic speed in practices, in the scrimmage and in the preseason opener, when he embarrassed two St. Louis Rams defensive backs with a wicked stop-and-go move. Cooks has also caught almost every pass thrown his way, including some trickier back-shoulder throws and some balls he had to go up and get behind safeties and corners. And he has remained humble and hardworking, demonstrating that the hype isn't going to his head. Although you never want to put too much on any rookie's plate, Cooks really looks like a guy who will help fill that big-play void that started to show up for the Saints last season.

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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesIn the preseason opener, Saints rookie Brandin Cooks had five receptions for 55 yards and a TD.
2. The Saints' run game looks as if it could be a legitimate strength -- or at least a decent complement to the passing game. The blockers and runners alike have hit the ground running this summer after finishing strong last season. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson thrived in the preseason opener -- and that was without Pro Bowl guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs in the lineup because of undisclosed injuries. Armstead is emerging as a tremendous young asset. And more than anything, you can tell there is a confidence among all the players and coaches after they figured out what worked (and what didn't) last season when they transitioned to more of a zone-blocking scheme under new line coach Bret Ingalls.

3. The simple law of averages says the Saints have to force more turnovers than in 2013, when they had only four takeaways over their last 11 games, including zero in the playoffs. But they're not just counting on a change in fortune. It's been a huge point of emphasis this offseason, starting with the Byrd signing. You constantly hear players and coaches cheering turnovers on the field or chattering about the opportunities they missed. One of the highlight moments in camp came early, when the entire secondary wildly celebrated after a great team effort by Champ Bailey and Rafael Bush to force, save and recover a fumble.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Brees' injury isn't expected to linger into the start of the regular season. And, in his 14th NFL season, he of all people should be able to handle missing preseason games. But it's obviously not ideal for him to be thrown off his routine. And it's a sobering reminder of how fragile the Saints' title chances are if anything happens to their future Hall of Fame quarterback.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Chris TilleyThe Saints' offense is in good hands -- as long as QB Drew Brees is healthy and ready to lead the charge.
2. Another future Hall of Famer, cornerback Bailey, has been dealing with an undisclosed injury that leaves his future -- and the Saints' No. 2 cornerback job -- in limbo. The good news is the Saints have some other decent options, including former starters Patrick Robinson and Corey White. And Robinson, especially, has looked good in his return from a 2013 knee injury. But in general, that No. 2 cornerback job remains as big of a question mark as it was to start the offseason.

3. Let's go with injuries one more time. It was unsettling to see both Evans and Grubbs out of the lineup for much of the past two weeks. Ideally, neither of their ailments will affect the regular season. But it's another reminder the Saints are getting older across the line -- and this coming on the heels of an inconsistent performance across the board in 2013, in part because of Evans' injuries. I still consider the Saints' line a strength. But they are counting on a healthy line since they don't have much proven depth to fall back on beyond their five starters.

OBSERVATION DECK
  • Jimmy Graham remains the Saints' most potent playmaker, even though he missed all of the organized team activities and minicamp in a contract dispute. Graham had the fastest time of any player in the team's conditioning test at the start of camp. And safety Kenny Vaccaro said he thinks Graham looks faster and stronger on the field. Don't forget, Graham is now healthier after dealing with a painful foot injury for the second half of last season. Another monster season could be on the way.
  • The Saints have a lot of young defensive stars still on the rise who could be talked about in similar terms to Graham (end Cameron Jordan, cornerback Keenan Lewis, outside linebacker Junior Galette, Vaccaro and end Akiem Hicks among them). Lewis and Galette seem to be off to the hottest starts so far among that group. But I wouldn't be surprised to see any one of them in the Pro Bowl.
  • None of the Saints' other draft picks has stood out yet. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, linebackers Khairi Fortt and Ronald Powell, and safety Vinnie Sunseri have all had their moments in practice and have shown some flashes of long-term potential. But they're also still in that "thinking too much to play at full speed" mode. If I had to pick a first-year player to make an early impact other than Cooks, I might go with Canadian Football League transplant Marcus Ball, a safety/special-teams asset.
  • The center battle between Jonathan Goodwin and second-year pro Tim Lelito is still too close to call. But both players have looked good, for the most part, so the winner should be worthy. This doesn't feel like a significant area of concern.
  • The Saints were hoping the kicker battle wouldn't be a tough call. But veteran Shayne Graham hasn't locked down the job yet in his battle with younger hopeful Derek Dimke, thanks in part to a missed 33-yard extra point in the preseason opener.
  • Second-year quarterback Ryan Griffin has looked great so far, giving him the early edge over veteran Luke McCown in the battle to become Brees' backup. Ideally, neither one of them will see the field this season. But either should be capable of keeping the Saints' loaded offense competitive if needed in a pinch.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Drew Brees took one small step closer to getting back to work on Tuesday when he dressed in full pads for the New Orleans Saints' practice.

Brees didn’t participate in any drills, though, as he continued to throw and exercise off to the side with the training staff as he recovers from a strained oblique.

Once again, it appears extremely unlikely that Brees will play in Friday’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. But he still appears on schedule to be back in plenty of time for the regular season.

“He's progressing well,” Saints coach Sean Payton said after practice. “So all those things are good signs. Each day he does a little bit more with the training room and then out here. And we just keep working on the rehab and making sure, functionally, that we're not stressing it where it sets him back."

When asked if it’s difficult to keep Brees patient, Payton said: “Well, he has that nature in him. But I also think he’s smart and he understands that the type of strain he has is something that can reoccur if you’re not careful and you don’t let it heal properly.”

The Saints had a number of positive developments Tuesday with their injury list.

Cornerback Champ Bailey returned to the practice field for the first time in nearly two weeks after suffering an undisclosed injury -- though he was limited to walk-through and individual work.

“He’s progressing well, feeling better, and it’s encouraging,” Payton said.

And guard Jahri Evans was spotted on the sideline for the first time in a week, although he wasn’t dressed in pads and only did some light exercises with the trainers off to the side as he recovers from an undisclosed injury.

Other injury updates:
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Drew Brees remained sidelined by a strained oblique during Monday’s practice, increasing the odds that he will sit out the New Orleans Saints' second preseason game on Friday night against the Tennessee Titans.

Brees
Thomas
However, Brees continued to show signs that he won’t be out for too long. He threw passes to receiver Kenny Stills and ran with cornerback Champ Bailey, among other exercises on an adjacent practice field.

Saints coach Sean Payton didn’t bother with another daily status update calling Brees "day to day" and adding that Brees is "getting there."

Payton did, however, elaborate slightly when asked about the injuries to cornerbacks Bailey and Patrick Robinson and how they’ll affect the Saints' evaluation of that No. 2 cornerback battle. Although Payton didn’t specify either player's injury, he predicted both will return to practice soon.

Bailey, who has been sidelined since July 31, did more running on the side Monday than we have seen to date. Robinson, who left Sunday’s practice early, spent some time on the stationary bike Monday.

"I think (Bailey) is making progress, and I think sooner than later he’s gonna be back out here," Payton said. "Champ’s someone that’s smart enough to know his body and obviously wants to make sure he’s 100 percent. ...

"I think with regards to Patrick, I don’t anticipate him being out a whole lot of time. He’s in good shape and he was smart enough yesterday, he just felt it get tight and he pulled off."

In another bit of good news, running back Pierre Thomas returned to practice in full pads and participated in some full-team drills after being held out of last Friday’s preseason opener and Sunday’s practice with an undisclosed injury.

Meanwhile, guard Jahri Evans, linebacker Victor Butler, fullback Erik Lorig, cornerback Rod Sweeting and safety Ty Zimmerman remained absent from practice.

Kicker Shayne Graham was present but did not participate in practice after suffering an undisclosed injury during Friday’s game. Stills, offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe and tight end Je'Ron Hamm were also present but didn’t participate.

Safety Jairus Byrd and guard Ben Grubbs were dressed in full pads and did some individual work, but they did not participate in full-team drills.

UPDATE: Center Jonathan Goodwin and linebackers David Hawthorne and Kyle Knox were not present at the Saints’ afternoon walk-through. It’s unknown if their absences were injury-related.

Roby ready for 'dream come true'

August, 6, 2014
8/06/14
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Bradley Roby was an NFL hopeful last February, plowing through his final preparations for the league's scouting combine.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Jack Dempsey/AP PhotoBradley Roby's first chance to show how he's progressed in the offseason comes against the team that dashed the Broncos' title hopes.
He wasn't with the Denver Broncos when the team had its title dreams shattered into little pieces in Super Bowl XLVIII. He didn't even know the Broncos could be the next stop in his football life. But that doesn't mean the Broncos' first-round pick can't understand what that meant to his new team, or what the home stadium will feel like Thursday night when they open the preseason against the team that dashed their hopes six months ago -- the Seattle Seahawks.

"Yeah, definitely, I feel like that's obvious," Roby said earlier this week. "Any time something like that happens in the Super Bowl, you know that's going to happen the next year. Especially opening up that next year with the same team, you know it's going to be a little here and there. It's going to be exciting. It's going to be worth watching, so I'm just excited to be a part of it."

In some ways, the Broncos' 43-8 loss to the Seahawks is a big reason why Roby is currently in the Broncos' locker room. It's why the Broncos tried so hard to do their due diligence on Roby and some mild off-the-field concerns that pushed what many league personnel executives felt was the best cover cornerback in the draft so deep into the first round.

The Broncos were looking to get bigger and more athletic in the secondary, to find players with bigger reach to match up against the bigger receivers that now dot the landscape. Roby, with his high-end speed (4.34 in the 40-yard dash at the combine) to go with his 5-foot-11 1/4, 194-pound frame, is just what the Broncos wanted.

Thursday night, Roby will get is first real chance to show how he's progressed in the team's offseason workouts. He figures to first step on the field with the starters if they go to the nickel in the Seahawks' first 10 to 12 plays on offense. That's an important item since the nickel is essentially the Broncos' base defense now, a formation they play well over 60 percent of the time.

"He's a bright guy," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "Athletically he has all of the things you like to see and now it's just a matter of getting him ready to see the multiplicity you see in this league, the looks, with all of the quarterbacks and receivers who know what to do."

As you would expect if there is a future Hall of Fame quarterback across from you in a training camp practice, Roby has felt the sting of Peyton Manning and the Broncos' high-powered offense. A double move here, a perfectly thrown fade there -- "That's going to happen, Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning" -- and Roby has seen what the learning curve looks like for him.

But Roby has also shown the ability to bounce back quickly, to get what Champ Bailey has called "corner amnesia," and line up on the next play with the confidence it takes to survive.

"These young cats have to know you have to come right back and line up," said fellow corner Chris Harris Jr. said. "Quarterbacks and receivers in this league are going to get you sometimes, you can do everything right and they're still going to make a play sometimes. But you have to come right back and [Roby] has done that. You can't lose that faith in yourself and if you get down, don't bounce back, those quarterbacks will keep coming after you."

As for Roby, he confessed to feeling jitters but is also eager to show what he can do.

"There's always going to be nerves any time you suit up for a game," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and say I'm not, but it's not going to be a big thing for me. You always get nervous, but I'm just excited to just go out there and go against somebody else and just really let it all out and show Broncos Country how I play, just familiarize myself with them. Get the crowd real hyped, playing against the Seahawks, it's going to be fun for me. Dream come true.”
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- One of the most compelling players to watch during the New Orleans Saints’ training camp will be newly-signed cornerback Champ Bailey.

Bailey
Naturally, there are questions about how much the 12-time Pro Bowler and likely Hall of Famer has left in the tank. But the Saints clearly had a vision for how the 36-year-old can aid their deep and versatile defense. And Bailey has a great shot at winning a starting job this summer.

As for what exactly the Saints need to see from Bailey during training camp and the preseason, Coach Sean Payton pulled out a classic line from his mentor Bill Parcells -- as he often likes to do.

“Bill used to say this and every once in a while I’ll reference Parcells, ‘With a player like Champ we don’t need to see it every day, we just need to see it once in a while,’” Payton said. “He used to say that, it made sense. So that’s being smart, with the conditioning test, for instance, or it’s being smart with how we practice him.

“But I have a pretty good vision for what I think he can do for us, and I think that’s been communicated. And I think he’s really anxious to do that.”

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