ENGLEWOOD — Champ Bailey provided a glimmer of hope to Denver’s staggered secondary Wednesday when he practiced without limitations for the first time since Aug. 15.
That was the final training camp practice, and two days later, he sprained his left foot in a preseason game at Seattle.
“I feel pretty good. I feel like I’m definitely making progress,” said Bailey, who sustained the dreaded Lisfranc injury, albeit a much milder version of the one that ended All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady’s season last month.
“It’s hard to be 100 percent when you come back from an injury like this but that’s what I’m working toward and I feel pretty good about where I’m going,” Bailey told The Associated Press after his first full practice in 56 days.
Bailey hopes to make his 2013 debut Sunday when the Broncos (5-0) host the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5), something team owner Pat Bowlen implored of him after Denver’s 51-48 escape at Dallas.
At 34, the 12-time Pro Bowl player has yet to have felt good enough on game day to give it a go, and he reiterated that he’s not about to risk rushing back before his body is ready.
“When I go out there on that field, I expect to play like I always play,” Bailey said. “I’m not trying to take anything easy or light. I’m full-tilt if I’m on that field, so I don’t know any other way to play.”
By all accounts, Bailey looked like his old self at practice.
“He hasn’t lost a step,” safety Rahim Moore said. “He made a nice play today, too. So, I mean, he’s the best corner ever, to me. So, I’m not worried about him. He’s going to be all right.”
Three defensive starters who got hurt Sunday — middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck) pass rusher Robert Ayers (left shoulder) and cornerback Chris Harris (concussion) — didn’t participate in Wednesday’s full-pads workout.
The earliest Harris can return to practice, based on the league’s concussion protocol, is Friday, but Harris said he felt fine and expects to play this weekend. He got hurt when teammate Shaun Phillips dived in on the tackle and smacked his helmet just before halftime.
“I would say I took a hard hit. But I could still remember everything. So, it wasn’t like a severe concussion,” Harris said. “You know those cartoons where they just got those birds around their heads? That’s how it was. I definitely had some birds, man.”
The absences of Harris, Woodyard and Ayers helped turn what was looking like another rout into a shootout at Dallas as Tony Romo threw for 506 yards and five TDs, helping send the Broncos’ pass defense to last in the league even though they’re No. 1 against the run.
They’re also one of three 5-0 teams.
“That’s definitely bottom line,” Bailey said. “You want to win. But winning these games doesn’t put a ring on our fingers. I mean, we’ve got to get better. We know that. That’s what it boils down to: how good are we going to get?”
Bailey’s return will help settle down the secondary that’s had its hands full with opponents passing so much to try to keep up with Manning’s monster start, and more help arrives next week when All-Pro linebacker Von Miller returns from his six-game drug suspension.
“Aw man, I cannot wait,” Harris said. “His presence just makes us better because teams have to really focus on him and that opens up for other people to make plays.”
While Miller was banned from practice and games, he was allowed to attend meetings and weight-room sessions, and he looks noticeably thicker.
“I’m like, ‘Von, you look like you almost might just play D-end,” said Harris, who added that Miller’s had a personal trainer working him out at Dove Valley during his banishment, “so that alone shows that he’s dedicated and he’s trying to make himself better.”
Harris also said he thinks Miller has learned his lesson and won’t risk another slip-up.
“I can tell like when we’re leaving to go on road games, it hurts him that he just can’t go,” Harris said. “You can just tell. He wants to play with us. So, I can tell that he’s hungry. He’s ready to play. I mean, he just comes up to me and he’s counting down the days.”