|08-21-2008, 07:42 PM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Broncos, Packers corners refuse to give in to age
Those in the NFL with sun-creased faces and a pile of remember-when stories say it's no country for old men.
They consider it an unforgiving place for those with too many birthdays, for those who cannot maintain their fast-twitch muscles, seamless bravado and the ability to think faster than they can run. Yet, when the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos line up for a preseason game Friday night, there is a good chance one of the rarer football occurrences will be on display.
There will be four starting cornerbacks on the field, a double-digit four pack, all heading into their 10th season or more.
"That's experience, experience, experience," said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, 30. "We've got a lot of it out there."
"Damn, that's like 40-something years," said Packers cornerback Al Harris, 33. "It makes you feel blessed. It's definitely a blessing. . . . This game is a revolving door, guys come in and guys leave. The fact you can stick around 10-plus is a good thing."
Bailey and 31-year-old Dre Bly, the Broncos' starting cornerbacks, each are heading into their 10th season; Harris and Charles Woodson, 31, the Packers' starting cornerbacks, are heading into their 11th.
The four have 128 career interceptions and have been named to 15 Pro Bowls at a position that usually shows little respect for its elders. And with little contact allowed between defensive backs and wide receivers in today's game, the demand for players with absolute top-end speed at the position is only going up.
And the can-he-still-run question from personnel people around the league is pushing older players out of the position or getting them moved to safety. That's because with receivers getting bigger and the amount of contact allowed down the field getting smaller, it can be difficult for a corner to stand the test of time unless he finds a way to adapt, to combine brains and brawn.
"I didn't feel like I lost any speed," said Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes, now a vice president of player development with the NFL. "So, I don't feel like that was an issue. . . . The biggest thing you have in your favor, though, if you have continued to work, is you know an awful lot in terms of your education of quarterbacks, receivers, what offenses want to do to combat certain defenses.
"So you are able to size up situations a lot faster with a lot more knowledge, with just a huge database of information to pull from. In a lot of ways, the game becomes a very manageable experience for veteran players, even when they do start to lose a step. And that experience is something that is hard to get; you really have to put in the time to be a good player."
For his part, Bailey said that for every step he might lose physically as the years go by, he believes he can make up for it with work in the classroom.
Players who don't take care of the work off the field will find that any physical changes that come naturally with the passing years, and all the wear and tear on the body the game brings, are intensified.
"I'm a little heavier, maybe, than I was when I came in, but I'm a lot smarter," Bailey said. "I don't know if I'm as fast as I was, but I'm still fast as hell. Back then I had young, fresh legs, but I know where I'm going now and it makes all the difference in the world ...''
"You have to be mentally tough, you have to be smart, and each year you have to try to get better at a different element of the game," Woodson said. "All of us in this game with 10-plus years, we've seen a lot. A lot of things come easier to us than a guy just coming in."
Bly said he also has tried to emphasize flexibility training over strength training as he has advanced in his career.
"You don't want those hamstrings to go now, because the recovery time gets longer and longer," Bly said. "Corners, we've just got to be able to run. I don't lift as much heavy weight as I used to, because we've got to be able to run, to be able to move and react. Running is lifting for your legs..."
Longevity at corner is a tough act.
"There's a lot of factors that can go into it," Woodson said. "You may not be that good, you may get injuries. Who knows? For any player regardless of (defensive backs), linemen, quarterback, to get 10 years in the NFL, it's a tough sport, so it's definitely a blessing. So I count my blessings every day, because the average career in the NFL, I think, is 3.2 years or something. Most guys are in and out of here before they ever get started.
Last edited by dragondawg; 08-21-2008 at 07:51 PM..