(Eds: Adds background, quotes, photo link. With AP Photos.)By ARNIE STAPLETONAP Pro Football Writer
Champ Bailey is cranky. He’s also as confident as ever.
And no, he’s not going to admit his body is creaking as he approaches his 35th birthday and prepares to face rookie receivers who were just learning their ABCs when he entered the NFL in 1999.
Article continues below ...
He’s still irked by that loss to Baltimore in the playoffs and the way he got burned by Ravens receiver Torrey Smith. He’s heard the whispers that he should move to safety and how quarterbacks now won’t shy away from him anymore.
With nearly three dozen candles about to adorn his birthday cake, Bailey insists he’s not willing to concede anything to age, has no plans to switch positions and welcomes any quarterback or offensive coordinator who wants to target him in 2013.
And if the Broncos want to select his heir apparent in the upcoming draft, he’s fine with that, too.
”I’m blessed, trust me,” Bailey said this week as the Broncos reported for the start of voluntary offseason workouts. ”Everybody back there would love to stand up here and say, `I’m 35 years old.’ It is what it is. When my time runs out, I’ll run away from it. But for the time being, I’m still here.”
Bailey was among several Broncos stars who had poor performances in their early exit from the playoffs three months ago after they’d earned the AFC’s top seed with an 11-game winning streak and seemed Super Bowl-bound.
Smith got behind the 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback for a 59-yard touchdown and then beat him for a 32-yard score, all part of an uncharacteristic day for the Broncos, who lost that game in double overtime, once again denying Bailey a chance at a championship that has always eluded him.
”Don’t get me wrong, but even if we’d won, I’d look at it the same way: What did I mess up? What I could’ve done better going forward, little things like that. I’m always looking at tape the same way, not hurting about it,” Bailey said. ”It does hurt that you lose the last game, but you can’t let it affect you.”
Bailey concedes the 59-yard TD was entirely his fault but argues he was in position on the 32-yarder.
So, in his eyes, that bad afternoon doesn’t foreshadow an abrupt drop in his game.
”Just recognizing what he was doing faster. A guy like that you can’t be a half-step behind,” Bailey said. ”He got me on that play. The second TD he just made a great play, caught me slipping. But on that long touchdown play early in the first half, he got away from me. The guy’s fast. You can’t lose a half-step.”
Bailey insists he hasn’t done that as he approaches his 15th season in the NFL.
”It’s my responsibility. When that guy runs down field, I’ve got to be on top of it,” Bailey said. ”Error on my part, and they took advantage of it.”
Bailey’s transgressions were largely overlooked in the immediate aftermath of that game because safety Rahim Moore allowed Jacoby Jones to score on a 70-yard touchdown pass in the waning seconds of regulation.
Bailey will try to help the third-year safety overcome that Bill Buckner-like ball-through-the-legs moment and he said Moore has the right frame of mind to get over it.
”`Let’s go try again,’ that’s pretty much his mentality,” Bailey said. ”I don’t think it affected him as much as people think. Because he got so much better last year. I can’t wait to see him improve this year. People want to talk about one play … even with myself, you can’t define somebody off one play.”
Still, in the foggy hangover of that loss, fans quickly began grumbling about Bailey needing to move to safety lest he face many more afternoons like that one.
”They’re going to do that every play. I don’t really care,” Bailey said. ”It’s not just one or two plays that’s going to determine how good you are – it’s the body of work. Those plays don’t define me. But at the same time, I can’t let that happen.
”Especially at 35.”
Most cornerbacks blow out 35 candles on their cake about the time they’re relaxing on the beach or chipping out of sand bunkers, not preparing for the grind of another NFL season.
With Bailey’s advanced age and with their other starting cornerback, free agent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, playing on a one-year deal, the Broncos could draft a cornerback high in next week’s draft.
”That’s fine,” Bailey said. ”I don’t really look at that any kind of way. I see what players they draft, how can they help us? Plain and simple. Every guy is looking to be replaced at some point. I’ve been looked at that way for the past six or seven years. It doesn’t affect me one bit.”
Bailey is accustomed to the ever-changing landscape of NFL rosters.
The Broncos made two big changes on his side of the ball this offseason, losing pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil in a bizarre deadline-fueled fax foul-up and signing Rodgers-Cromartie, who struggled in his two seasons in Philadelphia.
”We got another good player. He can help us win games,” Bailey said. ”I know what he’s capable of in talking to some of his old coaches and teammates. The guy is a special talent. So I look for him to do good things here.”
Bailey called Dumervil’s release and subsequent signing with the Ravens a ”prime example of how this business works.”
”I respect his decision,” Bailey added. ”I wish we could’ve found a way to keep him here.”
Yet, Bailey insists the Broncos are better able to withstand his loss than they were in 2010 when Dumervil missed the season with a torn chest muscle and Denver’s defense finished last in the league in just about every major category.
”Back then we didn’t have a lot of good players like we have now,” Bailey said. ”But there’s nobody else like Elvis. He was one of our captains. So, we obviously lose one of our leaders … but we’ve got to move forward.”
Notes: Demaryius Thomas said he doesn’t think his production will diminish with the arrival of Wes Welker, who has 672 catches in the last six seasons. ”I knew when he was coming in that I would probably get more 1-on-1 coverage, so I was kind of excited, actually,” said Thomas, who caught 94 passes for 1,434 yards last season.
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton