One day this summer, while the Chiefs were still training in St. Joseph, Allen Bailey walked over to his locker to gather a few things. He’d just left a defensive meeting, and was about to head back to his room, when all of a sudden, he saw a green, foreign object in his locker.
A doll — actually, an Incredible Hulk doll, to be exact.
“I saw the thing, and then I squeezed it — because you know it makes noises or whatever,” Bailey recently recalled with a chuckle. “I just laughed because (my teammates) were laughing, too.”
The culprit, it turns out, was Britt Reid, the son of Chiefs coach Andy Reid. Britt is a defensive quality control coach for the Chiefs, but he’s also a comics fan who shares his name with the alter ego of the Green Hornet, a popular DC Comics character.
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“He always makes fun of us, like which one of us would be action figures,” Bailey said. “Like, I’m the Hulk, (Dontari) Poe and (Mike) DeVito would be the Juggernaut and Jaye (Howard) is The Thing.”
Poe, DeVito and Howard earned those comparisons because of their considerable size and strength, but Bailey’s teammates say the Hulk fits him best.
“That’s him, man, that’s him,” Howard said. “Before the game, they even give him the green Gatorade. That’s the Hulk right there, man. He’s cut. I’ve never seen anything like it. His strength, I don’t care how big a dude is, he can find a way to get him on the ground, just throw him and shed him.”
Linebacker Dee Ford took the comparison even farther.
“It’s perfect,” Ford said. “Looks like the Hulk. Plays like the Hulk. He’s a complete player, man. He’s powerful, fast. He’s just a freak. You see him do certain stuff … there’s a select few guys in the league like that.”
The Chiefs’ front office agrees, apparently. Listed at 6 feet 3 and 288 pounds, Bailey has shown enough promise that the team opted to keep him from hitting free agency next March by signing him to a four-year, $25 million extension with $15 million in guaranteed money and a $10 million signing bonus.
That’s good money, particularly for a the fourth-year pro and first-year starter who, by all accounts, isn’t the best interior defender on his own team (that honor would go to Poe). But in today’s pass-happy NFL, three-down linemen are important to provide scheme versatility, and the Chiefs believe Bailey’s age — he’s just 25 — plus combination of size, strength smarts and athleticism, equal a high ceiling.
“He’s a smart kid, and so that’s carried over into his play,” Andy Reid said. “He’s really taken to learning the scheme and the concepts the offenses are throwing at him. So aptitude wise, he’s able to handle that and put it to use in play.”
Reid added that Bailey has always had the physical part, and he’s certainly right about that. After all, Britt Reid isn’t the first person to bestow the “Hulk” nickname upon Bailey.
“Ever since I was a freshman (in college), I’ve been called that sometimes,” said Bailey, who went to the University of Miami. “You know, because I wasn’t the average-sized freshman.”
Bailey’s childhood was unconventional in some significant ways — he grew up on a tiny Georgia Island with two paved roads, no cellphone services, no supermarket and no police — but he did have at least one thing in common with other football-loving kids in the South.
“In high school, I wanted to be like Ray Lewis,” Bailey said.
After a ballyhooed prep career in which he starred as a 6-foot-4, 252-pound linebacker, Bailey received offers from Alabama, Florida and Georgia. But he settled on Miami, Lewis’ alma mater, which promised him an opportunity to play at his idol’s position.
“I had the ability to run,” Bailey said. “I was good.”
Only, Bailey kept growing. Under the supervision of a collegiate weight-training program, his powerful legs and massive upper body only expanded. After spending his freshman year as a contributor on special teams, Bailey was convinced by Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon and defensive line coach Clint Hurtt to move to defensive end.
“A gift and a curse,” Bailey joked.
It turned out to be a good decision, as he grew into a two-year starter who finished his career with 103 tackles and 12 sacks.
He was selected by the Chiefs in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but that proved to be a rude awakening. On this level, everyone was strong, and everyone was quick. Often, the difference between making the play and missing it is a combination of instincts, confidence and knowledge of assignments.
Bailey, who had played in a 4-3 defense his entire life, was tasked with playing another new position — defensive end in a 3-4 defense.
“It took me some years just to get comfortable in the 3-4, understand two-gapping,” Bailey said. “I’m used to firing off and having one responsibility in a gap.”
In Bailey’s first two NFL seasons, he recorded 11 tackles and one sack in 26 games and seemed to be at risk during the Chiefs’ regime change from general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel to John Dorsey and Andy Reid.
But Bailey showed signs of improvement last season in new coordinator Bob Sutton’s defense, which sometimes calls on players to attack gaps.
He quickly emerged as the team’s best interior pass-rushing option next to Poe, and while he only had one sack, he had 18 hurries — tied for 18th in the league among 3-4 defensive ends and 11 more than starter Tyson Jackson, who left for Atlanta in free agency.
“I think everybody in the building felt like this guy can do this job,” Sutton said. “He (was) on his way up, and if he just keeps grinding away at this and working hard at it, we can get a real football player here.”
Bailey was eager for the opportunity but knew there were others waiting in the wings, including free-agent signee Vance Walker, who joined the Chiefs on a three-year, $13 million deal in March.
So last offseason, Bailey tried a meal plan for the first time in hopes of adding good weight. He ate burgers, chicken, steak and vegetables, and by the time he reported for camp, he weighed in at 293 pounds — up from the 283 he played at in 2013.
“I was afraid at first like, maybe my body won’t be able to move as quickly as I have,” Bailey said. “But during OTAs and camp, my body adapted to it.”
He soon found the extra weight helped him anchor against the 330-pound men he faced in the trenches. He not only managed to hold off Walker for the starting job — playing 541 snaps to Walker’s 106 — he has thrived.
In 10 games, Bailey already has four sacks — three more than last year — and 11 hurries, the same number as Poe. Against the run, Bailey’s had good and bad moments, but overall, Sutton says he’s turned into “a real effective” first- and second-down player.
“I think the area that he’s really improved on is his technique,” Sutton added. “He’s really taken that to heart. … I think those two elements, technique and maybe the additional weight, has helped him become a more patient run player and good run player throughout the course of the season.”
Add this to Bailey’s freakish athleticism, and it’s not hard to see why the team considers him to be an ascending player.
“Yeah, he’s chiseled,” Reid said. “Every defensive lineman is going to get out of position sometime. That’s just going to happen. Very few of them can recover and get themselves back into position, and he can do that because of the athleticism.”
This isn’t lip service, by the way. The Chiefs have just $2.8 million in cap room this season, which means it will be difficult for them to extend star outside linebacker Justin Houston’s contract during the season, barring a restructure or two.
While that likely is an indicator of how far apart the Chiefs and Houston are on a new deal, Bailey’s deal is also an indicator of how the team really feels about him.
“Every week he gets a little bit better,” Reid said. “I think the coaches feel good about it, and (Dorsey) feels good about it, and I trust John and the job he does.”
So does Sutton, who was thrilled to retain Bailey’s services.
“I was happy, you know,” Sutton said. “Why wouldn’t you be, coaching him? That’s an exciting thing. It’s certainly well deserved. He’s really made a tremendous amount of progress starting last year. You can start to see some of the potential that was there.”
Bailey is every bit as happy as his bosses are about the new deal.
One reason is because he was spooked by the recent season-ending injury to Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.
“It was a great deal at the same time,” Bailey said, “but I heard about that happening and I was like, ‘Wow, you never know. Any snap, anything can happen.’”
Bailey does not have big plans for his money, at least not yet, though he plans on buying his mother a truck. The thought of it brings a smile to his face, one his teammates have seen plenty.
Turns out that while Bailey’s size and athleticism more than live up to his “Hulk” nickname, his friendly and laid-back disposition does not.
“He’s one of the nicest guys I know, and I’ve had my locker around him the last couple of years,” linebacker Josh Martin said. “A great guy. Laid back, mellow. But when it’s time to play, obviously, he makes a difference.”
Likewise, Ford said Bailey was one of the players who showed him the ropes when he first arrived in Kansas City in May, but added that you shouldn’t mistake his kind, quiet side for weakness on the field. Bailey, he said, is not one of those players who needs to play angry to play well.
“That doesn’t have to be his personality for him to be physical,” Ford said.
So yes, Bailey says, a handful of his teammates still call him Hulk. The doll Britt Reid gave him sits in his locker every day, and every week, either Bailey or a member of the equipment staff packs it up and places it in his game-day locker — a not-so-subtle reminder of what the Chiefs are paying him to be from now on.
“Yeah, I call him Hulk,” Howard said with a mischievous grin. “But now, his new name is Big Money.”