- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

At least one Washington Redskins player will miss not having the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC East — or, more specifically, will miss Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer.

"I'm going to miss ol' Jake," Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey said this week. "He did me well. He put me on the map."

Four of Bailey's 13 career interceptions have come against Plummer, including two of the three he recorded in a 1999 game that propelled him to Pro Bowl consideration. Bailey swears he doesn't treat Arizona, Washington's season-opening opponent tomorrow, differently than other NFL clubs, but he admits the matchup has been special.

"There was starting to become a little rivalry there for me personally," said Bailey, who has five total picks against the Cardinals. "[Wide receiver] David Boston is getting so much better and my history with Plummer was just making it good."

The twice-a-year battles between Bailey and Arizona end this year as the league takes on a 32-team, eight-division format. The Cardinals have moved to the geographically proper NFC West, meaning Washington will face them once every three years with a random game possible based on similar divisional finishes.Not that Bailey needs Arizona. He has proven himself against all NFL teams, particularly in 2000, his best season and the one in which he was voted a Pro Bowl starter. Last year Bailey slipped a bit from that level but ultimately went to the Pro Bowl as a first alternate.

This season Bailey and second-year corner Fred Smoot expect to be the NFL's best duo, not just its most talented young pair. And while Smoot's musings on the subject get more publicity — this week he named himself and Bailey "Billy the Kid and Jesse James," predicting they would "rob everybody for 20 weeks straight" — the more reserved Bailey thinks similarly.

"Fred says it a lot louder," Bailey said with a laugh. "He has a way of saying it that makes it a lot more attractive. But I feel the same way. We talk all the time. I'm probably closer to him than I am anybody on this team."

Bailey's pure athleticism and continued development in his position's nuances have impressed new teammate Jeremiah Trotter, a Pro Bowl linebacker who played with two of the league's best corners — Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor — in Philadelphia the past four years.

"I think Troy is a more aggressive, in-your-face guy," Trotter said. "He'll jam you, he'll make tackles in the backfield. He's a hitter, also, as a cover corner. Bobby Taylor, he's a technician. He's never going to be out of place. He's always going to be in the place he needs to be to make a play.

"I'd say Champ has pretty much a combination of both. He's going to hit you, he's going to make plays, he's going to cover you and he's a technician too. He's a guy who doesn't say much but he's always where he needs to be to make the play."

Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis enjoys working with Bailey (the seventh overall pick of the 1999 draft) after spending the past three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens' Chris McAlister (the 10th pick that year).

To maximize Bailey's combination of size, athleticism and intelligence, Lewis has inserted him in the slot in the nickel package — the interior position where quarterbacks look to confuse coverages and often convert third downs.

"You've got to utilize his quickness," Lewis said. "He's kind of the quarterback underneath there. He's got to make a lot of calls. He's going to line up against their best receiver most of the time — that's where they put their guy on third down. And he also has to blitz. He has to cover deep passes. He's got to play underneath things. He's got to be a factor in the run game. So that's why you're looking to a guy who's really got to do a lot."

One thing remains unclear, though: whether Lewis will ask Bailey and Smoot to stick on certain sides of the field in the basic package. That was the format in 2000, when Bailey and Deion Sanders played together. Last year, though, Bailey and the team excelled when he was instructed to follow the opponent's best wideout all over the field.

Keeping tactics secret, neither Bailey or Lewis would reveal plans for this year. But Bailey relished the task, shutting down receivers like Seattle's Darrell Jackson, Carolina's Muhsin Muhammad, Denver's Rod Smith, Philadelphia's James Thrash and Arizona's Boston.

Well, Bailey didn't totally shut down Boston. In the first meeting, a Week 13 road win by the Redskins, Boston caught six passes for 132 yards, though several were against zone coverage. But Bailey earned a draw by making several important break-ups and keeping Boston, who had a club-record nine 100-yard days last year, out of the end zone.

More impressive was Bailey's limiting of Boston to two catches in the finale, a Washington home victory. The pair of receptions was the lowest total for the Pro Bowl starter and NFL leader in receiving yards (1,598) all season.

"I've seen him come a long way," Bailey said of the player who was drafted one slot behind him, eighth, in 1999. "I mean, he was good [at Ohio State], and he was good his rookie season, but he's just gotten so much better that I want to keep competing with him. One day he's going to be the best."

Especially with Bailey out of his division.


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