Champ Bailey embracing his new role

Credit: Thomas Campbell, USA TODAY Sports

Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has not been the player he once was.

The future Hall-of-Famer struggled in last season’s playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens by getting burned by Torrey Smith twice. Bailey was then injured in the second preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks.

The foot injury he suffered kept him out most of the year. He played very sparingly throughout the season and when he was out there he didn’t look the same.

Now, Bailey is healthier than he has been all season and is moving into a new role with the defense he was once the leader of on the field.

The corner is no longer a starter on the outside. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris are manning those spots and they will be tested by the San Diego Chargers’ Keenan Allen during Sunday’s playoff game.

Bailey is playing more of a nickelback role and is not just back in coverage all the time. He is blitzing and involved more in stopping the run. He has always been known as a good tackler so he has the skills to excel at this spot.

“I feel good about what I can do,” Bailey told USA Today. “I think now it’s just being smart about how I go about doing it, and making sure I don’t have any setbacks, and I don’t wear myself down or anything like that. The good thing is I’m fresh, and I’m ready to go.”

Bailey wants to win a Super Bowl and wants to contribute to the Broncos. This season may be his best chance. Last season looked to set up perfect for Denver but it didn’t come through. The former Georgia standout didn’t do much on the stat side this season but if he can come up big in the playoffs it won’t matter.

He has played all over the defensive backfield during his career. Bailey has covered every high-profile receiver or tight end during his time in Denver. Wherever the best pass catcher was, Bailey was shadowing him. The Broncos could rely on Bailey to cover one side of the field all game long.

But he has not had a lot of time in the nickel spot in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s defense. Del Rio still has a lot of confidence in Bailey as even after being burned in the Ravens game, he kept him on Smith.

“You know, it’s funny because I find myself asking him little things about coverages mostly,” Bailey told ESPN. “Just what is he looking at, this and that. He’s had so much time in there and he’s been so good at it, I’d be a fool not to look at him and ask him a few things.”

Bailey has not publicly said he is upset with his role and he is too classy to let that known in the media. He is out to win and will do whatever he can to help bring the Lombardi Trophy to Denver.

This move to nickelback/safety has worked for stud cornerbacks in the past. Charles Woodson, who almost signed with the Broncos before inking a deal with the rival Oakland Raiders, was a force in that type of position. He helped get the Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl before being hurt in the Packers’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rod Woodson also made the move and kept his career going for some more time.

Bailey has said he is not ready for a permanent move to safety. He feels that move will come when he feels he is ready. But this move to nickelback is a step towards playing safety.

This could be Bailey’s last chance to win the big one. The Broncos could be ready to ask Champ to take a pay cut next season and who knows how he will react to that. But the cornerback wants to be part of this team and he will make an impact anyway he can.

Whether he is covering a tight end, running back or blitzing the quarterback, Bailey will give it his best on Sunday against the Chargers.

Chris Schmaedeke is currently the Assistant Sports Editor at the Daily Camera in Boulder. He has worked in sports journalism in Colorado since 2001 when he started at the Rocky Mountain News. He has covered the Denver Broncos for several websites over the past two years.

Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisSchmaedeke

Like this? Read about the Broncos’ opponent, the San Diego Chargers, here.

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