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METAIRIE, La. – Roland "Champ" Bailey, who turns 36 next month, figures there's no use trying to fool anyone — least of all himself — about his age.
As of now, he's the oldest every-down player on New Orleans' roster; place kicker Shayne Graham is his only elder teammate.
"If you put me on any team, I'm always going to be the old guy," Bailey said. "It's just something I've got to get used to."
Preferring to avoid comparisons to the player he was several years ago, Baily is focusing on what he can do in 2014. That's when the Saints' relatively young and partly overhauled secondary will need his leadership, veteran savvy, and still formidable play-making skills.
"One thing I don't want to do is look back or look too far ahead. I'm taking care of what's in front of me. That's getting in shape and getting to know my guys," Bailey said. "My first thing is to lead by example, show how hard I can work and try to lead that way. And all these guys — 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 and making sure I'm there for them when they have questions."
Now entering his 16th NFL season, Bailey has been named to 12 Pro Bowls. His 52 career interceptions are the most among active players.
He was among the more high-profile free-agent additions New Orleans made this offseason, along with safety Jairus Byrd.
Unlike Bailey, Byrd is in the prime of his career, entering his sixth season with three Pro Bowls and 22 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles already to his name. Also unlike Bailey, Byrd was not available to participate in voluntary offseason practices this week because of back surgery.
Coach Sean Payton said Byrd's procedure to address a nagging problem with a disc should not sideline the safety beyond the start of training camp.
"It's something that didn't need to be done, but both he and ourselves felt like it would be something that would prevent any issues in the fall," Payton said. "Our guess would be that we'll be real cautious ... and then he'll start up training camp with no problem."
Bailey, who last season missed 11 games with a left foot injury, said he feels good now, and backed it up with his performance on the field. During 11-on-11 drills, Bailey made a leaping breakup of Luke McCown's pass intended for Andy Tanner along the sideline. Later, Bailey tipped McCown's slant pass intended for Kenny Stills, resulting in an interception by linebacker Kyle Knox.
"He looks fantastic," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "You look out there and you think he's one of those young guys running around. But he's bringing excitement to our defense and knowledge and it's awesome to add a great player like him."
Quarterback Drew Brees recalled throwing an interception that Bailey returned for a 25-yard touchdown in 2005, when Brees was with San Diego and Bailey with Denver. The Broncos came back to win that game in large part because of Bailey's play, and Brees said Bailey's play-making was why game plans included "no-throw zones," whenever Denver was the opponent.
"Certain routes, certain areas of the field, you just knew: 'Don't even think about it. It's not worth it,'" Brees recalled.
The Saints hope Bailey will still come up with such plays while mentoring younger cornerbacks including 2010 first-round pick Patrick Robinson, who missed most of last season with a knee injury; rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a second round pick; and third-year cornerback Corey White. Even Keenan Lewis, the Saints' top cornerback, could benefit from Bailey's presence.
"There's so much value in having a guy like that," Brees said. "Not only what he can teach our young guys, but just he's still and extremely productive player. ... He wouldn't have chosen the New Orleans Saints if he didn't think we had a legitimate shot here — and that he could help us."
Notes: In addition to Byrd, those missing practice included DT John Jenkins, DE Tyrunn Walker, WR Joseph Morgan and WR Brandin Cooks. Cooks was excused to finish the school year at Oregon State. Payton declined to address the conditions of Jenkins, Walker or Morgan, though Morgan wore a sleeve his left knee, which he injured last training camp, putting him out for the season.
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