ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Whenever cornerback Kayvon Webster arrived at practice at South Florida, he’d proclaim, "Champ Bailey’s here."
Now he’ll get to say that for real.
When the Denver Broncos selected him in the third round of the draft, Webster said he wanted a locker right next to his idol so he could pick the brain of the perennial Pro Bowler.
Instead, he got a locker right across from Bailey when he arrived at the team’s Dove Valley complex for a three-day rookie camp.
"That’s still a good spot," Webster said.
Besides, he added, "we’re going to be on the field together."
And in meetings.
"It’s just a blessing to be on the team with him," Webster said, "and I’m looking forward to getting coached by him, as well as by my position coach."
On Saturday, secondary coach Cory Undlin kept noting how pleased he was with Webster’s clean technique during drills, and co-ordinator Jack Del Rio said after practice that he likes Webster’s work ethic.
"You can see he’s eager to get going and understands he’s got a lot of work to do," Del Rio said.
The Broncos added Webster and free agent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this off-season to a stellar group of cornerbacks that includes incumbents Bailey, who’s entering his 15th season, Chris Harris, Tony Carter and Omar Bolden.
A shade under 6 feet and 200 pounds, Webster represents a new breed of cornerback coveted by NFL teams who want bigger, stronger and sometimes faster players to cover taller tight ends and beefier wide receivers that are all the rage.
A linebacker in high school, Webster was converted to cornerback at South Florida and started emulating Bailey.
He did a pretty good impression of him, too.
Webster burst onto the national scene with a 96-yard fumble return for a touchdown in South Florida’s season-opening win at Notre Dame his junior season, and he kept adding to his resume ever since.
"We saw a guy with great speed," said Matt Russell, the Broncos’ director of player personnel, noting Webster ran the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.3 seconds. "Great cover skills. The thing that stood out to us about Kayvon was his physicality against the run game. Very tough. We feel like we’ve got a safety playing corner that can also cover."
"And I would also add, not only that, but the size," said Broncos front office boss John Elway. "I think if you look at the receivers and the tight ends in the game these days, it’s that size is imperative at the corner position. It’s very difficult to find size as well as speed in the same guy, and we were able to find that in Kayvon."
Webster said he’s never thought of himself as this new breed of cornerback, "but I’m willing to step up to the challenge to be able to cover tight ends as well as stepping into the box to tackle running backs."
He said he got his physical nature from playing linebacker in high school, where he also was a wide receiver. He realized during the recruiting season that college coaches viewed him as a defensive back, however.
"It wasn’t a surprise. I was undersized as a linebacker in high school; I was 180. I had the speed of a corner," Webster said. "My first offer came from South Carolina; Steve Spurrier, he asked me to play corner. And then that triggered into my mind that at the next level, I would be in the secondary, whether that was at safety or corner.
"I just had my mind focused on being the best at whatever position they put me at."
When he got to South Florida, he was moved to cornerback and that’s when he really began modeling his game after Bailey.
"He’s very good in the man-to-man skills. I’m not up to his level yet. But with his coaching, I will be. I’m just building my confidence as the day goes on," Webster said.
When the veterans return for a three-day camp with the rookies later this month, Webster will once again get to proclaim, "Champ Bailey’s here."
Only, this time, he’ll mean it.
"I love Champ," Webster said. "Favorite corner."
Notes: Webster said he picked jersey No. 36 because "I thought of 36 as me being a third-round pick, and I wore 6 in college." … The Broncos have been practicing on their turf field but hope to return to the grass for their next camp May 20-22 now that the installation of new sod and heating system is complete. … T Vinston Painter was the first of Denver’s seven draft picks to sign a contract — $2,277,000 over four years — on the eve of the rookie camp. "I wanted to get that out of the way so I could focus more on the playing part aside from the business part," he said.