|12-23-2006, 07:15 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Bailey a study in determination
Bailey a study in determination
For Broncos cornerback, more than practice goes into a perfect game plan
By Lee Rasizer, Rocky Mountain News
December 23, 2006
ENGLEWOOD - Rarely does anything get past Champ Bailey: receivers, running backs.
That's the part people don't see when it comes to the NFL's premier cornerback.
They're inevitably wowed by the seven- time Pro Bowl pick's remarkable skill set. How he turns his hips and explodes out of cuts. How he almost always plays the ball flawlessly in the air. How he can make up ground while it appears everyone else is playing in slow motion.
Instead, the focus should be between the Broncos logos on both sides of his helmet.
That's where his greatness starts.
He sees things - like Haley Joel Osment in the movie The Sixth Sense saw things, or Jennifer Love Hewitt in the television show Ghost Whisperer sees things.
His clues come in subtle ways, certainly not as striking as spirits trying to communicate messages from the ethereal world.
A turn of the head here or an alignment tight to the formation there, that's all Bailey needs to sniff out what's going to happen next.
Couple that with eight years of experience as a pro and already sharp instincts, and you get what defensive coordinator Larry Coyer calls "a war daddy."
No one in the league has more interceptions than Bailey's 16 the past two seasons despite teams targeting him only judiciously. He had 18 interceptions in five seasons with the Washington Redskins and has surpassed that total by one in two-plus seasons in Denver.
And, at 28, Bailey still is in his prime.
"I don't think it's an aberration that they don't go over there," Coyer said of teams playing keep-away from Bailey. "And I don't think it's an aberration when they go over there, they pay."
There was a time early in Bailey's career when he clouded his thinking with too many concepts. He'd try to grasp everything until he burned out.
His approach is more modest now. He starts a week's preparation by looking inward at his previous month's work. The way he sees it, teams hone in on four weeks of game tape to check for tendencies, and if he's doing something badly, teams will try to exploit him by attacking him via that route. So he tries to eliminate that potential shortcoming straight away.
Bailey doesn't cram video breakdowns into his Tuesdays as he once did, preferring to hit the ground running on Wednesdays.
"One thing about this game is, you don't want to take too much into it, then you're trying to remember this and remember that," Bailey said. "I try to take three or four things into a game and try to build off of that."
Those three or four items amounted to not one but two interceptions Sunday in a win against the Arizona Cardinals.
Here's how Bailey got there.
Getting a feel for opponents
It's Wednesday, Dec. 13, four days until game time, and Bailey is tucked into a leather chair, holding a clicker in his right hand while surveying tape of the Cardinals' previous contest against the Seattle Seahawks.
Sitting in the defensive backs' 25-by-20-foot meeting room at Broncos headquarters, Bailey likes to initially watch the full game film instead of clips of down and distances or player highlights, though he eventually watches those, too.
"You get a better feel for what guys are like during the course of the game," he said.
Only hours before, the Broncos' secondary members were introduced to the core calls they'll use in the game.
In Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona's two Pro Bowl-caliber receivers, Bailey already can tell the Broncos will have their hands full. Those players entered the week having combined for 546 catches, 7,301 yards and 42 touchdowns the past four seasons.
"Boldin is a different receiver when he gets the ball in his hands. He's like a running back. He breaks tackles and everything," Bailey said. "But the thing about Fitzgerald is, his ball skills are unbelievable because a guy that tall - and he's fast - you don't find many that have the ball skills he has. He can come down with the ball anywhere."
Because both receivers are explosive, it has been determined Bailey won't shadow either and, instead, will stay put at his usual left cornerback spot.
"It's going to be tough," he said of matching up with the Cardinals tandem. "But if I keep watching them, I'll pick up on some things."
But Bailey's eyes, as usual in these early preparatory stages, are on the player delivering the ball.
"You watch the quarterback, you can make a lot of plays," he said.
Bailey is impressed with rookie quarterback Matt Leinart, the Cardinals' heralded first-round draft pick who Bailey believes, with time, can become a Peyton Manning type because of his game- management skills.
It's imperative, in Bailey's view, the front four generate pressure because Leinart has the recognition skills to pick apart a secondary.
"One thing I notice is, he has a lot of touch. He doesn't zip it in there a lot, but he knows where he wants to go and manages the game pretty doggone well," Bailey said.
But Bailey knows Leinart's lack of superior arm strength plays into his hands.
"Since he uses touch, I know I have time when the ball leaves his hand and I'll be able to get there and make a play," he said.
And Leinart isn't always dead- on in his execution, either.
"He'll make some throws into coverage that he shouldn't make sometimes," Bailey said, adding it is the rookie's biggest flaw. "And if we can make some plays and take advantage of that, then we can win this game."
It's easy to believe Bailey's scouting report, given what comes next.
On the screen, he watches a Cardinals play from the Seattle game unfold and freezes the video on a three-receiver alignment that, in his view, portends a play- action bootleg. Boldin is on the right side, tight to the line of scrimmage, where Bailey normally would be aligned.
"I've got to figure he's either down there to block or running a route across the field," Bailey predicts, tapping the clicker to set the play in motion.
He's right. As Boldin runs a crossing route, Leinart rolls left to deliver a 56-yard touchdown pass to Bryant Johnson.
"I don't know how they got beat deep on this," he said of the Seahawks defense, shaking his head.
Bailey then goes on to correctly call the receivers' routes on a succession of passing plays. And he reads the way the tackles fire out of their stances to call run plays without a hitch.
"He retains things almost instantaneously, so it's not a matter of him having to watch things over and over," marvels Broncos defensive backs coach Bob Slowik, who says Bailey perhaps is the brightest player he has been around in his 15 NFL seasons.
"He sees it one time and, bam, it's in the computer. He knows."
Freedom yields results
Bailey not only picks up information quickly but can apply it to real-time situations just as fast. His photographic memory has created a sense of freedom within the defensive scheme that has produced some of his biggest plays in a Broncos uniform.
"Some guys pretty much play blind on their guy, but Champ has the ability to see through his receiver, see the inside receivers, see the quarterback, things of that nature, that really put him in position," safety John Lynch said. "He'll make plays that really aren't his plays just because he's got tremendous vision. And that's a tough thing to do for a cornerback."
No moment illustrated Bailey's sense of field vision better than a game last season against the Oakland Raiders. Bailey's man ran a 10-yard angled fly pattern, jammed to a stop and turned to the quarterback.
Nearby, teammate Curome Cox was covering speedster Randy Moss, who took off on a deep corner route. Bailey gauged Moss' body language and instinctively identified him as the intended target.
The cornerback strayed off his man, raced deep downfield in chase mode and, with a last-second leap, got his hands between Moss' to break up the play in the end zone.
"The most amazing play I ever saw," Lynch said.
Bailey also had no reason to be in the area of a 5-yard hitch against the San Diego Chargers in Week 2 last season that was a pivotal play in the Broncos season. But he abandoned his deep responsibilities to make the interception on Drew Brees for a momentum-changing touchdown.
Again and again, he has done similar things. It isn't so much cheating as taking calculated risks because he knows where he fits in the big picture.
"He knows the game and what to expect in every scenario," fellow cornerback Karl Paymah said. "So he basically reacts."
They are plays Bailey couldn't have made early in his career with the Redskins as mainly a bump-and-run corner.
Playing off coverage in the Broncos' zone-heavy scheme has played to his strengths of seeing the entire field. Off coverage aligns the cornerback about 8 yards in front of a receiver, allowing a wider vantage point than does man-to-man.
"The last time I actually locked someone up in bump-and-run was probably against the Giants last year, Plaxico Burress," he said. "But I don't make as many plays when I'm in a guy's face, and I realize that. And I don't have to be in a guy's face to play him one-on-one anymore. I don't know what's enabled me to do it like that. I guess over time I just got better at playing football. But I don't need to be in a guy's face to intimidate him, make plays or anything. I can play off and be just as effective."
It used to be teams would take advantage of Bailey's aggressiveness by beating him with double moves.
But Slowik has helped Bailey become more disciplined by constantly harping to the cornerback to allow receivers to catch the shorter routes and let his instincts, quickness and feet make those shorter stops instead of yielding the big play.
So now the biggest issue Bailey fights on a weekly basis is boredom because teams avoid him at every turn.
He often cures that feeling by remaining active and efficient in defending the run.
"He's a great tackler," Coyer said of Bailey, who ranks second on the team in stops with 85, including 72 solo tackles. "Not good, great."
Armed and ready
It's game day now. Bailey has gotten past his usual "dead-man walking" Saturday period and is ready for a battle with the Cardinals.
He isn't expecting much action, which might be especially true considering it was learned only days before starting right cornerback Darrent Williams won't play because of a left toe problem.
Still, the game plan won't change.
"I told Champ this week,
'We've only got one of you. You can only cover one guy,' " Slowik said during pregame warm-ups at University of Phoenix Stadium. "And when you have three or four weapons and a running back (like Arizona), the rest of the team has got to perform and go out and produce."
During the game, Bailey gets the pass rush he sought against the Cardinals.
More surprisingly, some passes are directed his way. And as promised, the Broncos win the game in part by taking advantage of Leinart throwing into coverage - and largely ignoring Boldin and Fitzgerald for more than two quarters.
The receiving duo was targeted only three times during that span, the first attempt coming on the Cardinals' fourth offensive play when Leinart threw to Boldin with Bailey covering.
That play call morphed into Bailey's first interception of the game, and it tapped into the cornerback's instincts and study habits in a couple of ways.
"The one thing I knew coming into the game is that if they were going to come at me at all, they were going to throw quick stuff. So I was like, 'I've got to take the inside away' because it's either going to be a hitch or a slant," Bailey said about what he saw on that particular play.
Boldin ran right at Bailey, and that tipped him that the receiver was trying to create separation or was trying to lure him to come closer. By seeing on the periphery another slant move made by the slot receiver closest to Boldin, tight end Adam Bergen, it was apparent to Bailey a combination route was coming with dual slant patterns.
"That's exactly what happened," he said.
The second interception by Bailey came with the Cardinals in full chase mode while trailing by 17 points near the two-minute warning.
Defensively, the situation called for keeping everything in front of him, and Bailey, ho-hum, came off his assigned spot covering Fitzgerald underneath on an out route.
He fixed his attention on Leinart rolling right. And as the pass was released, Bailey raced back 11 yards and stole a potential interception from Lynch, who had picked up Boldin, finishing the play with a seemingly effortless, over-the-shoulder grab and 32-yard runback.
"(Leinart) never should have thrown that deeper one," Bailey said. "I don't know who he threw it to or what was behind it. I just know the ball came out of the lights and it was right there. And I was like, 'Why was he throwing this?' "
Bailey's task was made easier by Arizona's offensive approach, something he learned while culminating his week's film study.
"The one thing I learned is, their offense isn't very complicated at all," Bailey said, attributing that to the Cardinals coaches making concessions to Leinart's inexperience. "It's very simple for the quarterback, and that plays to my strengths because I don't have to see a whole lot. I don't have to study a whole lot, even though I do."
He also discovered Fitzgerald tipped off his routes, which also made his job easier.
"He starts looking back as he's breaking, so I know which way he's turning," he said. "Boldin's a little harder to read. And he's quicker than I thought he was. He runs hard. He's not fast. But he runs hard, which is almost as important as running fast."
Right about now, Bailey is ready to do some fast moving himself - to the plane. Coach Mike Shanahan has given the Broncos two days off as a reward for stopping a four-game losing streak.
Up next for Bailey are the Cincinnati Bengals and their gold-toothed quote machine, receiver Chad Johnson.
Bailey is more familiar with Johnson than the Arizona duo, having gone head-to-head with him in 2004.
Nevertheless, Bailey will be back in his chair in that 20-by-25 room with a clicker soon enough, looking for more information he can use. But he won't kill himself, of course.
"It gets easier every week," Bailey said with a wry smile before leaving the locker room, his credentials for Defensive Player of the Year having increased yet again.
Strive for five
Jeff Legwold's keys for the Broncos in their game Sunday against Cincinnati.
1 Take the tempo. The Bengals want opposing offenses to be impatient, and they want quick three-and-outs that include two incomplete passes to get the ball back for their high-powered crew. The Broncos need to control the pace, play their speed and not be forced out of a rhythm because they simply are trying to catch up.
2 The "other" guys. Champ Bailey against Chad Johnson is a dynamic matchup between Pro Bowl players. But it's how the Broncos defense handles the Bengals' other impact players on offense, such as T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Rudi Johnson, that will help determine this one.
3 Get there. Let Carson Palmer stand in the pocket and pick away at your defense, then get ready to watch the playoffs on TV. The Broncos must disrupt Palmer in some way. The Bengals could start rookie Andrew Whitworth at tackle again for the injured Levi Jones.
4 Pick a lane. Spins are for Barry Sanders and Maytags. The Broncos running backs can't run with their backs to the line of scrimmage. They are at their best when they are their most decisive and get up the field.
5 Enjoy. The Broncos haven't always looked all that comfortable at home this season. But they get the last two games of the regular season at Invesco Field at Mile High and the Bengals are coming off a short week, having played a road game Monday to go with this trip to Denver.
Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey uses the Monday after a Sunday game to review his performance, then takes Tuesdays off to decompress. His preparation then begins in earnest for the next game. How a typical practice week unfolds:
The team has a two-hour morning meeting to implement the basic game plan followed by a walk-through, a two-hour practice, then a review session of that day's workout.
"I want to know who I'm playing, personnel, and what they like to do," Bailey says. "Do they like to drop-back pass? Are they a play-action team? And a lot of things are based on who the quarterback is. That's major. How does he release the ball? Is he a guy that relies on timing? Does he stare down receivers? Because a lot of what I do now with my technique is I watch the quarterback and he'll tip me a lot. I watch the quarterback more than I ever did."
Another two-hour morning meeting, where more situational areas, such as third downs and red zone, begin to be covered followed by an abbreviated walk-through, a half-hour practice and a post-practice review.
"It doesn't take me more than a couple days and I pretty much have a bead on what they want to do," Bailey says.
He also will use this day or possibly the next to individually hone in through film study on tendencies demonstrated by the receivers he's about to face.
"I try to get about 20 minutes to a half-hour, but I don't try to overwhelm myself with too much because I think the more you play, the better you get, the more aware you get and you don't have to kill yourself looking at tape," he said.
Two more hours of position meetings, then the final full practice of the week, lasting about 1 hour, 20 minutes. The players then are set free.
"I really take practice more serious on Friday because, really, I see that as the day we can't have any mistakes mentally," he said. "If a guy catches a ball, so what? We were in the right place. That's the main thing."
A travel day on the road or check-in at a local hotel for home games. The full team meets for about 10 to 15 minutes before breaking off into groups for 45 more minutes.
"I'm done by then," Bailey says. "I'm pretty much the walking dead. I don't need any more. I watch film that they punt on and I might see something I haven't seen before, but I should be sharp by then."
|12-23-2006, 11:48 AM||#3|
Join Date: Oct 2004
Awesome article. Success comes from hardwork, even in the NFL, its not all about talent.
|12-23-2006, 12:10 PM||#4|
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Tampa Bay
It's amazing how much he has improved since coming to the NFL. In his first few years the big knock on him was that he got by on athletic ability, but now he has become a total student of the game.
|12-23-2006, 12:20 PM||#5|
RIP Darrent Williams
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Glendale, AZ
Amazing, im sooooo glad we have him here.
Now you see why he is the best. If he was just an athlete at corner, he would probably play like DW, but since he takes that extra effort he is te BEST there is.
I hope DW/Fox/Paymah take in EVERYTHING they see from Champ.
|12-23-2006, 12:38 PM||#6|
1st Amendment Protection
Join Date: May 2005
Location: St. Petersburg Russia
Great read. Thanks skins.
|12-23-2006, 06:34 PM||#8|
Anybody want a peanut?
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Ceti Alpha V