- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

Perhaps the best player the Washington Redskins have employed in the past seven seasons will start Sunday at FedEx Field. For the visitors.

Champ Bailey returns to town with the Denver Broncos.

“It will be a little different coming out of the visitors’ locker room and going onto that field,” Bailey said. “I had a lot of special moments there.”

Bailey, whose eight Pro Bowl berths are tied for second among cornerbacks, helped Washington win its only NFC East title of the past 17 years as a rookie in 1999. The next year, he began his run of postseason trips to Hawaii. But when talks on a new contract broke off during the 2003 season, Bailey was on his way to being traded with a second-round draft choice to the Broncos for running back Clinton Portis.

“I was trying to be optimistic about it, but with the way contract talks were going, I knew things would have to change dramatically… to happen right,” Bailey said. “I had one conversation with [coach Joe Gibbs]. I don’t know how much he knew about me. I wasn’t expecting him to fall in love with me all of a sudden. I was hoping I could play for him, but it just didn’t work out.”

Asked who got the better of the deal, Bailey, 31, hesitated before replying, “I think they got what they wanted and the Broncos got what they wanted.”

After playing for four coaches and five defensive coordinators during five seasons with the Redskins, Bailey welcomed stability in Denver, where Mike Shanahan was the coach from 1995 to 2008.

“When I left there, it was a swinging door,” Bailey said. “When I got here, it wasn’t like that.”

And yet, as Bailey noted, there are more Redskins players on hand who were there during his last season with Washington (six, including those on injured reserve) than Broncos players left from his first year in Denver (two). Denver also has a new coach, Josh McDaniels, who’s two years older than Bailey. There’s also a new defensive scheme - the 3-4 under the direction of Mike Nolan, Bailey’s coordinator as a rookie with the Redskins.

But Bailey’s performance hasn’t changed. His Pro Bowl string ended last year when he missed seven games with a groin injury. But he’s healthy again, and Denver has rocketed from 29th in defense in 2008 to third.

“His skills, his awareness, his intelligence, his leadership - all of those things are of great importance to our team and our secondary,” McDaniels said. “He displays every day why he’s a great player. He’s one of the top corners to play this game.”

Former Redskins receiver James Thrash said he remembers Bailey as a 21-year-old rookie.

“The way he covered it was magical,” Thrash said. “You could see the confidence in him right when he came in.”

Linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, who helped with the secondary from 2000 to 2002, recalled a training camp practice in 2001 when Bailey had an “outrageous amount of one-on-ones where they didn’t catch a pass on him. Champ took a lot of pride in stuff like that. He’s competitive, and he’s got special athletic skill.”

Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot, who started opposite Bailey from 2001 to 2003, termed his buddy “the perfect athlete.” And now Bailey has added a decade of NFL experience to those gifts.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Bailey said. “I’ve seen a lot of different schemes. I can help the people around me a lot more. Physically, I’m out there banging around with these young guys.

“I feel like I could play forever when I go out there.”

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