Champ Bailey embraces increased expectations following Broncos' signing of Peyton Manning

Martin Rogers

NEW YORK – Champ Bailey has warned his Denver Broncos teammates not to waste the "golden opportunity" they have been presented with thanks to the arrival of Peyton Manning.

The 11-time Pro Bowl cornerback believes Manning's introduction gives the Broncos a genuine chance at challenging for a Super Bowl title, but only if the squad lives up to its potential and starts to adopt a tougher mentality.

[ Michael Silver: Gregg Williams instructed Saints to hurt Niners players ]

The Broncos' defense was lauded for its efforts in 2011, but Bailey insists his group underperformed at key times and is determined to use his experience to implement positive change during the offseason.

"We did some good things but I don't want anybody to think we were great by any means," Bailey told Yahoo! Sports. "We were far from it. There are a lot of young guys who need to grow up and guys like me that need to hold my end as much as possible."

In the second half of the season, Denver won numerous low-scoring games in part because of late-game heroics by then-quarterback Tim Tebow. But overall, the Broncos were 24th in scoring defense and 20th in yards allowed.

"We just need guys to step up and play better," said Bailey, who had two interceptions last season. "There were stretches when we looked mediocre and stretches when we looked great. That's not the definition of a great defense. Look at the Baltimore Ravens' defense; they are consistently good all the time. That is a great defense.

"We are not there yet – and there is a little bit more on the line now."

While all the buzz in Denver last season was centered around Tebow, now it will very much be the Manning show, with all the hype, expectation and attention that entails. The Broncos enjoyed a memorable playoff overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in January before losing to the New England Patriots. Such an outcome, Bailey says, would not be good enough this time around.

"When you get a guy like Peyton coming to your team you are blessed," Bailey said. "The stakes go up. The way he approaches the game is the way I want my quarterback to approach the game. I haven't played with a quarterback of this caliber. That is not to discredit any of the guys I have played with but Peyton Manning is one of a kind.

"To get to work with him and have him lead your team and try to make them successful is a golden opportunity and that goes for all of us. We have to understand it is going to take a lot of work to get where we want to go but at least we have got the pieces and we have just got to make it come together. We have communicated by text and Peyton is ready to go. That's all I know and that's all I'm about – trying to win these games."

"We look forward to that pressure," Bailey said of the defending AFC West champs. "I don't think anyone sleeps on us by any means …

Bailey, 33, is relishing the chance to marshal a young defense with a big upside, featuring rising stars such as NFL defensive rookie of the year Von Miller. However, Bailey knows that unless the Broncos can handle the increased expectation arising from having Manning as their leader, all the current feel-good vibes coursing through the franchise will swiftly evaporate.

"The expectations definitely go up when you got a guy like that behind center. One thing we can't lose track of is what it takes to get where we want to go. We've got to still work hard. You can't expect it to happen overnight. I've been on some great teams before and it didn't work out. We didn't even make the playoffs. That is something we have obviously got to work towards."

Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
Tim Tebow's visit to outdoor Easter worship service expected to draw 30,000 in Texas
Bucs' LeGarrette Blount would be flattered to be a target of a bounty program
Falcons QB Matt Ryan becomes 'Matty the Caddie' at the Masters
Mock draft: Trent Richardson garnering increased attention