ENGLEWOOD • If you’ve ever watched Brett Favre play, announcers have told you without fail that a young quarterback should never try to emulate Favre’s horrible fundamentals.
They could say the same about Champ Bailey. The Denver Broncos cornerback used to play with proper fundamentals, but not anymore. Teammates marvel at his unorthodox and unsound style, with his hips wide open toward the field, which no coach would teach or endorse.
“He’s probably the only guy that can get away with what he does,” Broncos cornerback Andre Goodman said. “For young guys to watch him and say ‘I’m going to play like that,’ it may be a mistake. Not everybody in this league has his natural talent.”
“Nobody really coaches my technique,” Bailey said proudly. “I wouldn’t recommend it for everybody.”
Bailey used to be a fundamentally sound player. He would follow the coach’s script, backpedaling with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. That worked fine for him. He made five Pro Bowls his first six seasons.
His entire game changed in 2005, when he suffered a hamstring injury. Because his movement was a bit limited when he came back, he didn’t backpedal or stay square. He played facing the quarterback, his back to the sideline, pretty much running sideways instead of backpedaling.
The approach worked. In 2006, Bailey had one of the best seasons for a cornerback in NFL history, grabbing 10 interceptions despite rarely being targeted. He finished second in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting. He has played the same style since.
“I see more now,” Bailey said. “I see the quarterback, the receiver, I can see everything. Back then, I used to just play watching the guy, and you couldn’t make a lot of plays like that.”
His interception against Dallas on Oct. 4 was a perfect glimpse at lack of fundamentals and how his talent can overcome it. Bailey ran with his back completely to the sideline, as he shadowed Cowboys receiver Miles Austin, and even pointed his shoulders toward the end zone. Tony Romo threw a pass well behind Bailey, who swung his hips and shoulders to instantly turn his body 180 degrees. Then he caught the ball inches from the ground. Not many cornerbacks in the NFL — and perhaps only a handful in league history — could have made that play.
“Champ is so smooth in his movements, he does a technique that when coaches teach techniques they’ll probably put up Champ’s technique as what not to do,” safety Brian Dawkins said.
Before Goodman came to Denver, he had heard Bailey didn’t backpedal or stay square to the line.
He had no idea how extreme that habit was, and can’t believe Bailey gets away with it.
“Every time I see it, I’m amazed,” Goodman said.
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