Bailey Running and Cutting, But Cautious in Recovery

Champ Bailey

Bailey, shown here watching practice on Sept. 14, hasn't practiced since injuring his hamstring in the regular-season opener. (PHOTO: MAXDENVER.COM)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –Champ Bailey won’t rule out returning for the Broncos’ game at Tennessee on Sunday.

“I’m feeling better,” he said. “I feel confident about how the process is going, but as far as Sunday, it is to be seen because I don’t really know how I’m going to feel in a couple of days.”

But after sitting out Thursday’s practice — his fifth consecutive missed practice while he recovers from a hamstring injury — the signs aren’t looking too promising.

“I could still go. I’ve done that before, but I wouldn’t like it to be just a Friday practice. I’d like to get more work,” Bailey said.

“I’m definitely going to need some practice because as much as I can do with conditioning and running and preparation, practice is the only thing that can realistically prepare you for a game because you need somebody running at you and you not knowing where they’re going to go,” Bailey said. “That’s all practice is. You’ve got to get that reaction time.”

There are signs of progress, even as Bailey spends the two-hour sessions watching from the sideline and taking mental repetitions. Most importantly, he’s running.

“A little bit of running and breaking and cutting and stuff,” he said. “(I’m) trying to get back into the feel of things and make sure that that feels more natural before I actually step out on the practice field.”

The Broncos’ need for Bailey against the Titans can be considered pressing

Tennessee possesses two wide receivers good enough to be considered top-drawer game-breakers in Kenny Britt and Nate Washington. Britt has all three of Tennessee’s receiving touchdowns this season and is on pace for a 112-catch, 2,168-yard campaign, but Washington is on pace for 104 grabs and 1,328 yards through two games. Second-year cornerback Cassius Vaughn, who made his first NFL start last week, will likely see Britt or Washington on every snap Sunday.

“Every week, man. It’s a big name receiver every week,” Bailey said.

But where the Titans’ corps loses steam is in its depth; it’s a Pike’s Peak-steep drop-off from Britt and Washington to their No. 3 receiver, Lavelle Hawkins. The Packers, meanwhile, go four deep with playmaking pass catchers. Three already have touchdowns: Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and rookie Randall Cobb. The fourth, Donald Driver, just happens to be Green Bay’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yardage. Week 3′s pressing need becomes downright desperate against that quartet in Week 4.

Green Bay’s receiving depth, combined with the Broncos’ lack of experienced cornerbacks behind Bailey, would allow one to connect the dots to presume that Bailey is targeting Week 4 for his return. That notion would be presumptuous.

“It’s not about who it is. I can’t concentrate on who we’re playing. I’ve got to take care of my body, regardless, and make sure I’m ready to go,” Bailey said.

“Every week’s a tough test. Green Bay’s a tough test. So is San Diego. So is Tennessee.”

They’re all much tougher without Bailey.

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About Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason has covered the NFL since 1999, when he worked as an editor on NFL.com when the site was managed by ESPN.com. He worked six seasons (2002-07) covering the Broncos on their official website and two (2008-09) on the Panthers' site. He began MaxDenver.com in 2010 and now contributes to CBSSports.com, The Sporting News and The New York Times.
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