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John DeShazier: Champ Bailey feels good, looks good in Saints uniform

Veteran cornerback drawing rave reviews from coaches

It took Champ Bailey about as long as it takes to say his name for him to become a leader in the New Orleans Saints' locker room, because his resume is well-known.

Future Hall of Fame cornerback. Owner of 52 career interceptions and 203 passes defensed. Fifteen seasons and 215 games played, including nine regular seasons in which he started all 16 games.

But for a little while he has to do a bit of following as he learns a new defense, adjusting from the scheme and terminology in Denver to the nuances and terminology in New Orleans.

"Now is just about getting comfortable with my teammates, communication, building some chemistry," Bailey said during the Saints' Organized Team Activities (OTAs) last week. "It's a new defense to me but I've seen a lot throughout my career. So I'm catching on really fast. It's just really getting on the same page with the guys around me.

"It's kind of early to tell how we're going to do things. But really, we're just trying to get to know the defense. There's a lot of new faces around here. We've got to get to know each other a little bit. That's really what this time is for."

That, and showing that Bailey completely is healthy.

He only played five regular-season games last season due to an injured foot, just the second time in his career that he played less than 13 regular-season games. But from all accounts, the 35-year-old totally is healed.

"Real sharp," Coach Sean Payton said last Thursday, describing Bailey's appearance. "He is in good shape. He is moving well. He is coming off of a foot, getting himself healthy, but he's 100 percent now and made a real nice play on a ball earlier today. He is doing well."

Said defensive coordinator Rob Ryan: "He looks fantastic. I don't know what happened (last year in Denver). I've seen him up close and personal, intercepting balls against us when I was in Oakland. He's fun to watch and he practices really hard.

"You look out there and you think he's just one of these young guys running around. He's bringing excitement to our defense and knowledge. It's awesome to add a great player like him."

Bailey said he expects to have to nicks and bruises, even now.

"I'm always going to have something, just like every guy in this locker room," he said. "But my thing is to make sure I'm fresh and ready to go when the season starts."

And to share the wealth of knowledge he has accumulated during his illustrious career.
Bailey said he'll have no problem mentoring his younger teammates while working to return to an elite level.

"My first thing is to lead by example and show how hard I can work and try to lead that way," he said. "I know I have a lot of experience and I'm not going to shy away from telling them things I think they need to hear, making sure I'm there for them when they have questions. That's really what it's all about, just being available."

His being available on the field promises to make the Saints a better defensive team. Bailey's renowned ball skills will be a welcome addition to a unit that hopes to create more turnovers this season.

"There are so many things you could say about him," Ryan said. "His athleticism, obviously. The way he has been able to cover people over the years and still make plays on the football, that's unique. That's why he is what he is.

"He'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and we're fortunate to have him. I'm telling you, he looks great out here. He's got a lot of life, he's got young legs, and he's fun to watch."

And Bailey figures the fun is just beginning in his Saints tenure.

"I'm always optimistic about what I'm going to do," he said. "I feel good about where we're going."

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