ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -Champ Bailey, owner of 19 interceptions over the last two seasons, is hard to impress.
It's not every day the perennial Pro Bowl cornerback doles out praise for a young receiver, but the Denver Broncos' defensive star is dazzled by second-year pro Domenik Hixon, who missed his entire rookie season because of a broken foot.
``I'll tell you what, man, he's a guy that we could have used last year,'' Bailey said. ``He's got great ability, great talent. You wonder how it's going to translate to games, but he looks good. He looks as good as most of our receivers. He has the ability to start. I just hope he fights for it.''
Hixon, a fourth-round draft pick from Akron, is going to get plenty of opportunities to impress the coaching staff when the exhibition games start because the Broncos' receiving corps is spending more time rehabbing than running routes.
Rod Smith (hip) and Brandon Marshall (thigh), who was slated to start alongside Javon Walker, have yet to step on the field during training camp, and Brandon Stokley (thigh), Marquay McDaniel (hamstring) and Glenn Martinez (thigh) have all come up limping of late.
Hixon has been impressive in his own right.
``The funny thing is he's 6-foot-2 but he can run like crazy and then he can stop on a dime,'' Bailey said. ``I mean, you don't see a lot of receivers who can do that with blazing speed like he has.''
Special teams coach Scott O'Brien also is salivating over Hixon and can't wait to see him returning punts against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night.
``He's got speed for big plays,'' O'Brien said. ``The history of the NFL shows you don't need great speed to be a great returner: Dave Meggett, Mel Mitchell. But then you have the guys that had it, too. And he's got great explosive speed that can get you big plays if you get him in the open.
``But for his size, he's got really good short-area ability. So, he can make the first guy miss.''
He's shifty like a scatback but has the speed and size to be something special in a variety of roles.
lls.''
Hixon seems just as enthusiastic to showcase his skills on special teams as he is to go long for Jay Cutler's deep throws.
``I'm hungry. I'm going to take advantage whether I get one play or 100 plays,'' Hixon said.
Hixon sustained a stress fracture on his pro workout day 16 months ago but didn't realize it and ran on it for two more weeks, figuring it was just a painful sprain that would go away. The Broncos went ahead and selected him in the fourth round but he missed all of training camp and then was a spectator all last season, his adjustment to this level limited to mental work.
``I did a lot of undercover scouting last year,'' Hixon said. ``I sat there with paper and pen during practice taking notes to myself.''
He also scribbled down bits of advice from Walker and Smith, pieces of wisdom he's putting to use on the field now that he's healthy.
Last year was hard on Hixon, who had never been seriously hurt before. So, while his teammates are slogging through two-a-days in 90-plus-degree weather this summer, Hixon's smile has barely taken a break.
``It was tough sitting out because it's been a dream of mine since I was a young kid, so to actually make it but then to put it on hold for another year? I couldn't wait to get out there,'' Hixon said. ``When we started our little conditioning phase this offseason, I was excited. Everybody was like, 'What's wrong with this guy?' But I couldn't wait.
``This is a dream, a blessing. This is my shot. So, let's go.''

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