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Boss, Champ a Bailey double

The Bailey brothers have always been close, long ago eschewing sibling rivalry for a friendship that had them together almost constantly as kids.

"We pretty much did everything together," Boss Bailey said, recalling their youth in Folkston, Ga. "We were like twins growing up. When one was there, the other was right behind him."

These days are no different. The current "there" is the NFL, where older brother Champ, 24, is a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Washington Redskins. Right behind him, once again, is Boss, 23, a standout linebacker from the University of Georgia.

On April 26, Boss is in line to be a first-round selection in the NFL Draft, and Champ expects his little brother to have an instant and sizeable impact.

"He hasn't proved it yet, but I'd say he's in the top 10 or 15 linebackers (in the NFL) right now," Champ said. "Of course, you've got to go prove it, but we're all up for that task."

A senior season that included 114 tackles, six sacks and a Sugar Bowl victory over Florida State put Boss in good draft position, and his stock has continued to rise. This isn't a particularly strong draft for outside linebackers, but he's rated as the best of the crop and is considered one of the fastest and most athletic players at any position.

The name of Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks -- the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year last season -- often comes up with regard to Boss, because many envision the younger Bailey in the same speedy, playmaking role.

There has even been some talk that Boss, 6-foot-3 and a bit lithe at 233 pounds, might play some safety in the NFL, though both brothers emphasize that it's not his primary position.

"Definitely linebacker," Boss said. "I'm a linebacker first. But I've got the athletic ability (to cover receivers). If anybody wants me to go out there one-on-one, I definitely can do that. I love a challenge."

The brothers have been working out together three days a week as Boss prepares for the draft and Champ shares the benefit of his NFL experience. However, bracing for the draft isn't a topic that needs to be addressed frequently.

"Not as much as you think," Champ said. "I really don't have to tell Boss everything. We pretty much went through my process together, because we were both in school (at Georgia) and living together. He's benefiting from that because he kind of knows what to expect. It hasn't changed much."

The Baileys' focus has been on improving Boss' stock and getting him ready for his first season. Some of that tutoring involves technique and the subtle similarities between linebacker and cornerback.

"Little things -- your eyes, your hands and your feet," Champ explained. "Those are three things you really have to work on to be a good cover guy. If your eyes are in the wrong place, you'll get burned most of the time. If you can take care of those three things, you can be as good as anybody."

And a real weapon for NFL defenses, which often must hide the coverage deficiencies of their linebackers.

"I want to cover as well as a corner, so I try to watch what (Champ) does every game," Boss said. "I watch a lot of his tape."

The two didn't have much time to watch each other back at Charlton County High School in Folkston, a small town in the southeastern corner of Georgia. They played for two years together at Charlton County at positions all over the field -- quarterback, running back, linebacker, cornerback and safety. They later spent one season together at Georgia, settling into their current positions.

Champ's four NFL seasons belie the age difference -- just 16 months -- between the brothers. The timing of their birthdays (Champ in June, Boss in October) led to an extra year's difference in grade school. Champ skipped his senior year at Georgia and Boss redshirted in 2000 with a torn knee ligament, adding two more years of separation.

Similar ages and interests spawned their tight friendship, and the pair apparently never went through the competitive phase that marks many older brother-younger brother relationships.

"We'd always try to be on the same team," Champ recalled. "We'd never be on separate teams as far as (an organized) sport. If we played in pickup games, we might be on different teams, but we never really competed to the point that we tried to kill each other. I always wished the best for him, and he always wished the best for me."

The Baileys' real names are Rodney (Boss) and Roland (Champ). Boss got his nickname from his grandmother, who named him after his great uncle. Champ still isn't sure how his mother came up with his moniker.

"Nobody really knows," he said with a laugh. "My mom gets that question all the time -- she's the one who named me that -- and she still hasn't come up with the answer."

Also still unanswered are a few lingering questions about Boss. In addition to having two surgically repaired knees (having ruptured his left anterior cruciate ligament in 1997 at Charlton County and the right at Georgia in 2000), scouts say he needs to improve his tackling ability and learn to use his full strength on the field.

Feedback from NFL teams, though, has convinced him that such issues won't hurt him on Draft Day.

"Talking to teams, they feel like anything I need to work on, their coaches can fix," Boss said.

Champ agreed, having improved his own skills tremendously since being the seventh overall selection by the Redskins in 1999.

"Any little weakness you have, if you work hard enough at it. It's no big deal, really," he said. "If you just focus on it, work hard at it, you'll be good at it."

Champ has been tracking mock drafts on the Internet to see where Boss, who is expected to go in the middle of the first round, might land. "(But) every time I look at a mock draft, it says something different," Champ complained.

Ultimately, he said, his brother's draft preparations should include being prepared for anything -- some brotherly advice that Boss has taken to heart.

"After the draft, it'll be on to training camp and things like that," he said. "So I'm just trying to stay focused and take it one week at a time."

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