Youthful Patrick Robinson battling veteran Pro Bowler Champ Bailey for starting cornerback job

Patrick Robinson is youth.

His size, his speed. His competitive hunger, eager to amend past performances and unexpected injuries, make him a top option to start the Saints regular season Sept. 7 at Atlanta.

Champ Bailey is accomplished.

Name a defensive achievement short of a Super Bowl victory and Defensive Player of the Year honors, and Bailey has done it. He has as many Pro Bowl appearances in his NFL career as last season’s Saints defense had interceptions (12).

Now, pick one cornerback to start opposite Keenan Lewis in 2014. Or watch Saturday night’s preseason game at Indianapolis for an answer.

“The plan is to play them,” said Saints coach Sean Payton of the team’s third preseason game. “We kind of went through their roles yesterday, what there goals are ... but both of those guys will play.”

Bailey and Robinson have missed practice time this summer at training camp because of injuries, although both players were back on the field at Saints headquarters Thursday.

“I’m glad to have those guys back, especially Champ, seeing he’s healthy again and P-Rob is getting back to his normal self,” fellow Saints cornerback Corey White said.

With Lewis transforming into a potential shutdown cornerback, either Robinson, who is entering his fifth season, or Bailey, a 16-year pro, will be tested early this season. That’s nothing new for Robinson. It would be new for Bailey. Some wonder if Bailey, 36, still has it, while others ponder if Robinson, a former first-round pick of the Saints, will ever get it.

Robinson wants to be what Bailey has been: one of the league’s best cornerbacks, even a shutdown corner, the highest achievement for a player at the position. Bailey, though, wants to show that he can still be what he once was, even if he isn’t everything that he was.

For all of Robinson’s athletic talents, he’s lost battles to injuries during four NFL seasons, including last season’s ACL knee tear during Week 2. Ironically, his healthiest season was the Saints defense’s worst campaign ever.

Robinson started all 16 games during the Saints’ Bountygate-marred 2012 season, part of a defense which set a then-record for futility.

Bailey’s last season in Denver (2013) was marred by foot problems. He tried to work through the injury, stay off the injured reserve list, during the Broncos’ run to Super Bowl XLVIII. And he did, but he also ended his second season in as many years with whispers that he’s a shell of his former self.

“I feel like I still got it,” Bailey said early in training camp from West Virginia. “I can fit myself into this team, however, they need me to.”

Both are expected to take plenty of snaps in Rob Ryan’s many defensive schemes, built around available talent, no matter the position. At times, Bailey and Robinson may be on the field simultaneously, with one playing cornerback and the other nickel.

Still, only one may be on the field during the crucial moments. The other will likely be on the sideline. Watching.

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