ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The 2013 season for cornerback Champ Bailey was unlike any of his previous 14 in the NFL.
He missed most of the regular season with an injury – playing in just five games. Only once before had he played in less than 13 games in a season. And when he returned to the field he played inside at slot corner instead of outside, where he has spent the majority of his career.
Not being on the field for 11 games was a difficult thing to deal with.
"It's been very frustrating," Bailey said. "My most frustrating (season), probably because I'm living it right now. The only thing I care about now is I'm back on the field, I'm ready to go, I feel good and that's all that matters right now."
Bailey isn't the only Bronco in the secondary that has been forced to deal with injuries this season. Rookie corner Kayvon Webster has a cast over his fractured thumb, safety Rahim Moore is on injured reserve but still has a designation for return and most recently cornerback Chris Harris Jr. was lost for the rest of the season due to an ACL injury.
"We've had a lot to deal with, but so have the Patriots," Bailey said. "Every team has something to deal with, some adversity – and guys need to step up. Fortunately enough, we've got a good group of young guys that have stepped up and it looks like we haven't missed a beat. That is what it's all about. Next man up, be ready whenever your number is called."
The move to the slot for Bailey meant a slightly more limited role – which was helpful as he eased back into playing time -- but it also meant swapping positions with Harris Jr. Now that Harris Jr. is out for the season, the question looms whether or not Bailey will return to his natural position.
But where Bailey plays is not a concern of his during the week of preparation for the AFC Championship Game. He'll be prepared either way.
"I'm ready to do whatever they ask me to do," he said. "We're still putting together what we're going to do this week. If that is what it comes down to, then I'll be ready for it."
Bailey has been an important part of the defense this season, regardless of where he lined up – including the sideline. His experience and his ability to communicate have been advantageous to the entire unit.
"He knows what's going on," linebacker and fellow defensive captain Wesley Woodyard said. "You can do a lot of different things when you've got a Champ on the field as far as coverage-wise. It makes it easier for our secondary to communicate. He's a huge part of what goes on in that secondary.
"Whether he's off the field or on the field, he's always the kind of guy that's giving that leadership and that advice of what kind of plays to look for in certain situations."
Sunday will mark the 10th playoff game in Bailey's career, but just his second conference championship game. And even if his role isn't completely nailed down as of yet, he'll be ready regardless.
"I feel like I'm going to do whatever they ask me to do," Bailey said. "That is the way I've played it since I came back from the injury. I don't want to force anything. But I feel like I'm ready for whatever is thrown at me."