- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2000

In a secondary with future Hall of Famers Darrell Green and Deion Sanders, Washington Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey has been largely overlooked by fans. No matter that Bailey may be the best of the trio this season, considering that Green is 40 and Sanders 33.

The lack of attention is just the way Bailey likes it. He's a country kid who prefers peace and quiet over the roar of the crowd. A big night out is dinner with friends. Bailey would rather listen than speak. He's happy simply stalking receivers. Maybe he'll get a new nickname, though Champ is certainly a sportier moniker than Roland.

Just a year after becoming one of the team's marquee players, Bailey has quietly faded into the background. An offseason of blockbuster free agent signings like defensive end Bruce Smith, safety Mark Carrier and quarterback Jeff George, plus the presence of first-round selections LaVar Arrington at linebacker and Chris Samuels at offensive tackle, has left Bailey no longer a primary target of autograph seekers.

"Obviously, the fans have favorites," he said. "Deion and Darrell how could I be jealous of those guys? I'm a fan of theirs. I grew up watching them and know how much they mean to the game. I could never be jealous of them."

There's no ego clash in the secondary. Green spent last season as Bailey's mentor. Now Sanders is adding to the lessons. It's not unusual to see the two veterans tutoring Bailey on looking for receivers' tendencies.

"Champ's a young guy who is going to develop his own identity," said secondary coach Ron Meeks. "Maybe one day he'll be at the same level as those guys. He'll learn from those guys, but he has to develop his own persona."

Bailey won't be overlooked by opposing passers. After all, there's an unwritten rule against throwing at Sanders more than a few times per game. Green's pickoff of New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe on Aug. 11 showed he's still a feared corner. When the Redskins play their nickel coverage, which is usually one-third of the defensive snaps, then Bailey becomes the target.

"I know that Deion will get two or three balls a game and Darrell and I will get the rest," Bailey said. "He's the guy who shuts his side down, but that gives me more opportunities."

Bailey showed a prime-time persona last season. He became the youngest player ever to pick off three passes in one game, one of them a 59-yard touchdown against Arizona before a Sunday night national audience. That earned him awards as NFC Defensive Player of the Week and NFL Defensive Player of the Month. He also intercepted first-quarter passes in the preseason and regular-season openers. Bailey finished as third Pro Bowl alternate after leading the Redskins in passes defensed (17) and finishing second in interceptions (five) and fifth in tackles (83).

"Champ at times struggles, but he made big plays in our winning games," coach Norv Turner said. "He's a lot better football player now than when the season ended. His technique has improved a great deal. If you're not careful with the football, it's going to end up in Champ's or [linebacker] Shawn Barber's or Deion's or Darrell's hands."

While Bailey remains a starter with Green the nickel back, he'll move inside during nickel packages. It permits Bailey (6-foot-1, 184 pounds) to be more physical than while covering receivers on the outside.

The second time around should be easier for Bailey. Now there is no more gazing wide-eyed at big stadiums, carrying bags for veterans or singing "No Sex in the Champagne Room" during team dinners.

"I wouldn't say easier, but definitely a lot smoother," he said. "I'm not having to make the transition from college. I still have to learn a little more about drills and techniques because we have new [defensive] coaches."

Said Meeks: "He has all the athletic skills. Rookie year, you have jitters. Now you should be more comfortable with what you're doing."

Maybe then Bailey's old fans will remember him.

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