Bailey Key to Defensive Success

Linebacker Boss Bailey is back now, and claims to be feeling no effects from his fourth surgery on his knees. Detroit is clearly counting on a return to form from the now third-year pro and head coach Steve Mariucci says he likes where Bailey is in his recovery. Comments from Bailey and Mariucci inside.

ALLEN PARK - Attaining speed at the linebacking position has been one of Lions' president Matt Millen's goals since taking the helm of the franchise.

Early on, he gambled that Georgia's Rodney "Boss" Bailey would recover from a serious knee injury and become the prototypical linebacker that every team is looking for - fast, smart, and a solid tackler with pass coverage ability.

Bailey made Millen look like a genius in his rookie season taking over 1,000 snaps and recording over 80 tackles out of the strong side position.

But in 2004, Bailey suffered a knee injury that was initially expected to keep him out just six weeks. He ended up missing six months, his entire sophomore season.

"He had 1,098 snaps if I remember correctly," said Lions' head coach Steve Mariucci, referring to Bailey's rookie season, "(He had) more than anybody on the team. That is defense, that is goal line, got some special teams. He was a busy guy. He was right on course to being a heck of a football player, and he missed last season.

"Every now and then you see that speed work, when he picks up a pass or chases a guy down. I think: 'yeah, he has his speed (back)."

Bailey is back now, and claims to be feeling no effects from his fourth surgery on his knees, but just to be on the safe side, the Lions have kept him on a one-a-day practice schedule. Detroit is clearly counting on a return to form from the now third-year pro and Mariucci says he likes where Bailey is in his recovery.

"He got 20 snaps in the last game," said the coach. "There were a handful of plays that he was a little rusty and there was a handful plays that we said 'that's Boss.' The more he plays, the more he practices, he will be better than ever. I like where he is headed."

Bailey concurs.

"I'm back. I'm healthy. I'm 100%," he reassured. "Just going once a day is just a 'crawl before you walk' type of thing. It's nothing else to read into it but that. Come [Saturday] I'm going to be out there full 'go.' As long as I'm out there on the field.. I'm ready. I'm back and I'm healthy and 100%, what else can I say?"

But Bailey's rust was evident as he overran one play and missed a tackle on another during last Friday's loss to the New York Jets. This is when the team needs him to work out the kinks; and they feel that he will be back at full strength by the season opener against Green Bay.

When asked if he was concerned about Bailey's struggles, Mariucci said he didn't think it would be a problem. "In his first year of playing, I don't remember an issue with that - anymore than anybody else on the team. I didn't feel that was the case. I didn't notice."

Bailey's return is an additional weapon in Detroit's linebacking arsenal as well. With a crop of young, talented, and fleet-footed linebackers, Mariucci felt overwhelmed by what he considers one of his best linebacking corps as a coach.

"You are adding depth with a former starter (in Bailey). Not only that, but the Teddy Lehman's of the world who played in his place got great experience," theorized Mariucci. "James Davis got great experience. Even Alex Lewis started at nickel for us. All those young linebackers have a lot of playing time under their belt, which is good."

And Bailey's happy to be in the mix. Not only does he plan on being a major contributor to the success of the Lions defense and the team, Bailey and the linebacking corps have made it a goal to be difference makers. They're looking to make the plays that turn the game around.

"You've gotta want sacks out of your linebackers, that's just a plus," said Bailey. "When you can get sacks and picks or any miscellaneous things out of the linebacking group, that's only a plus to the defense."

Teaming with second-year pro's Lehman and Lewis along with third-year linebacker Davis and old pro Earl Holmes, the Lions have one of the speediest linebacking corps in the NFC. But Bailey warned that team speed is only half the battle.

"I think the thing is a lot of people get mixed up as far as team speed and blitzing; it's timing. It's all about timing and it's all about knowing what you're doing with all eleven players on the same page. That's when you really make it look fast. You can have all the speed in the world but if you don't have the timing and everybody doing what they're supposed to do then it's never going to work."

With one week of camp remaining, Bailey -- along with his posse -- will soon have their opportunity to prove that, despite time lost, everyone is on the same page.

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