1. Archive

Champ stamps arrival

In the years before he became a member of the Denver Broncos, former Bucs safety John Lynch said he believed some cornerbacks were not as good as their reputations.

Lynch said he would sit in the film room with ex-teammates Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly and recognize ability without being in awe.

But when it came to Champ Bailey, then with the Redskins, that was a different story.

"We were a tough group in Tampa, with Ronde and Brian and we would watch film and say, "This guy's not that good.' And we would say that about virtually everybody," said Lynch, whose Broncos play the Bucs Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. "But in Champ, we knew he was pretty special."

Here's how special. Exposed in the secondary by the Colts in the playoffs last year, the Broncos knew they needed a premier cornerback if they were going to advance. So they went after the man considered the best in the game.

In a mega offseason trade, Denver sent two-time Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis, who wanted a new contract, to Washington in exchange for Bailey, who wanted a new team, and a second-round pick.

The Broncos may have given up one of the league's elite running backs, but in turn got a rare commodity: a shut-down corner.

"There are very few real shut-down corners," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "That's a person you can put on man-to-man, regardless of who he is and the guy won't catch too many passes. He's the best corner I have ever coached."

From his early days at Georgia, where he excelled on both sides of the ball, Bailey, 26, was clearly a unique talent who worked hard, stayed humble and was destined for great things in the NFL.

Taken with the seventh overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Redskins, Bailey immediately established himself as one of the NFL's best. As a rookie, he started all 16 games, registered 83 tackles with five interceptions and 17 passes defensed. Through the following four seasons, Bailey treated receivers with a polite disdain and dared opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks to throw his way.

Many chose not to. Those who did completed few balls.

"You have to be a good football player, true," said Bailey, who has been to four straight Pro Bowls. "But you have to be consistent. You can go out there and face one of the top receivers and be consistent on every down, in his face on every down, any ball he catches, you're right there trying to tug it out. Now, the odds are he's going to catch balls on you. But if you can come back and knock one down or get a pick, you've made an impact."

Unlike some of the more famous cover corners, Bailey, 6 feet, 190 pounds, plays with as much thump as he does flash. He isn't afraid to get physical with a big receiver, stick a tight end or clobber a running back.

"And you have to be relentless, you have to tackle and you've got to be strong," said Bailey, who has never missed a game in his NFL career (83 games, 83 starts). "The league is looking for big corners these days because the (receivers are getting) bigger and bigger. You have to be strong enough to deal with their size."

Overjoyed with his offseason acquisition, Shanahan said some of Bailey's success is based on natural athletic talent.

"He's got real speed," Shanahan said. "He's got the uncanny ability to stick with somebody on the short and deep routes, and that's something that doesn't happen very often. You either have it or you don't. There are a lot of guys with the same speed as Champ, but they can't cover. He's got long arms and that gives him the ability to bump guys off the line of scrimmage."

Lynch, who signed with the Broncos in March after the Bucs failed to honor the last two years of his contract, said he quickly realized that Bailey was better than he thought.

"He's a tremendous athlete," Lynch said. "I'm not quick to label guys the greatest this or that, but my gosh, this guy is special. The way he jumps. (Nuggets basketball player) Carmelo Anthony had a celebrity gig and Champ was there doing 360 dunks like an NBA player.

"On top of that, usually a guy like that, because of his athletic ability, may not have had to use great technique, but he is as fundamentally sound a corner as I have ever seen."

Likely energized by his new home and a new defensive philosophy, Bailey has been outstanding through his first three games with the Broncos, who can't wait to let him loose on opposing receivers.

This isn't the best news for Bucs receivers, who have struggled to consistently get open.

"I think people are really going to discover how good he is," Lynch said. "In Washington, people wanted him to be a shut-down corner, but they played him off. Here, we make no bones about it. We're going to have him up in people's faces. He's great at that, and we have to utilize what he's great at. We're going to play a lot of man."

And Bailey has just the confidence to pull it off.

"I definitely have confidence in my game," he said. "I believe when I go out there, no one can beat me. That's the attitude I have when I step out on the field, and my results speak for themselves. I don't try to do anything out of the ordinary, but I do try to play every down like it's the last down of my career."