As Bradley Roby walks off the practice field alone, nearly 15 minutes after any other teammate, no one at UCHealth Center bats an eye. It is a regular occurrence and one that has taken place since he arrived.
After being a highly touted prospect from Ohio State University, having his draft stock fall due to off-field issues and then landing in Denver as a late first-round pick, Roby knows all about expectations. He also quietly has exceeded them. Sunday, as Aqib Talib sits out the game versus the Kansas City Chiefs due to suspension, Roby will be ready for anything that comes his way and his coaches and teammates certainly know what he is capable of.
“I have great confidence in him. He’s really operated as a starter. We’ve played a lot of what we call ‘single’. We’ve been with three corners on the field a great deal because of the way our division is or the people that we’ve been playing,” head coach Gary Kubiak said Wednesday. “Roby’s played really well. He’s a second-year guy with a lot of expectations and I think he’s turned into a really fine pro. He’s doing a good job.”
In his first season with the Broncos he was expected to sit and learn from Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Instead he played in all 17 games, starting two and tied the league for second-most passes defended (13) and tackles (64) among rookie cornerbacks. After declaring his overall rookie season grade as a “D,” Roby vowed to improve in year two and he has done just that. While playing in 56.8 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, he has amassed 18 total tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, a recovery for a touchdown and four passes defended. Demaryius Thomas, a three-time Pro Bowl receiver, has witnessed his progress first hand.
“I go against him everyday in practice. He gets better every week, he is working on his craft. He is a physical guy. He likes to press a lot and sometimes when you get beat, some guys go in the tank. With him, he goes to the next play. He gets over it quick and actually he plays better ball after he gets beat and gets angry.”
Another receiver and a 2014 Broncos draft member, Cody Latimer, played in the Big Ten with Roby while at Indiana University and has also seen his dedication in practice and off the field.
“I see everyday he is the last one off the field. I notice that going to the weight room; he is still out there working on press techniques. He is a hard worker. He is always working on his game. His iPad is always dead because he is always studying on it.”
Roby was taken 31st overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, after four other cornerbacks, despite ESPN.com declaring him “arguably the most talented corner in the class.” His drop in the first round of the draft may have been a key moment in his career and he joined a dynamic and talented group that has undoubtedly helped his growth. Wednesday he acknowledged that fact.
“Obviously it’s a blessing for me. You can’t get put in a better situation as a cornerback than I got put in. It’s a blessing. Everything happens for a reason, so I’m happy that it happened and I’m just taking advantage of it.”
Of the four cornerbacks taken ahead of him, two have been very disappointing, one has suffered a big injury while Kyle Fuller has excelled in Chicago. Currently, only the San Diego Chargers’ Jason Verrett, picked six spots ahead of Roby in 2014, is ranked higher on Pro Football Focus’ 2015 cornerback grades. With most NFL players keeping tabs on draft class members and comparing themselves, Roby has looked to higher standards on his play.
“I don’t really compare myself to guys in my draft class. I don’t really pay attention to that. I pay attention to the top guys in the league. Those are the guys that I’m trying to play like. Chris [Harris Jr.], Aqib [Talib], Darrelle Revis, [Richard] Sherman, [Patrick] Peterson and all of those guys.”
“I think it has helped me a lot,” Roby said of the extra work daily after practice. “Most of what I work on out there is muscle memory stuff. So when I’m in the game it just happens without really thinking.”
Roby’s quickness and physicality has been crucial in nickel situations and has also allowed him to play free safety at times. In fact, his one start this season came against the Green Bay Packers in Week 8. He has shown an impressive ability to read routes and jump passes, like his lone interception this season against the Minnesota Vikings.
Sunday he will surely start at left cornerback for Talib. It is a scenario he is used to. He earned his second career start last season against the Chiefs while subbing for Talib. Kansas City will be ready for Roby and their fans will certainly recognize him after his game-winning fumble recovery and touchdown in week two. Harris will likely shadow Jeremy Maclin, leaving Albert Wilson and a combination of Jason Avant and De’Anthony Thomas to deal with. Despite the huge play in week two, Roby has moved on, but he also knows his presence on the field will garner added attention this time around.
“I don’t really worry about that play. That was in the past. I didn’t really do much anyway, so I’m not really worried about the past. I’m sure that they’ll try to have some stuff ready for me since I’m starting now and kind of ended the game as the bad guy the first time around.”
When a Pro Bowl cornerback of Talib’s caliber is out for a crucial game, some amount of panic from a team is understandable. When asked if Roby can get the job done Sunday, Latimer grinned wide and responded like several of his teammates have this week saying, “Roby, he has lock-up, man. He is going to put it on some guys and they won’t be able to get the ball. It is going to be exciting to see what he does. I think he is excited to step into the spotlight and be that starting guy.”
All the extra work, the extra expectations and the recent success appears to have Roby ready for the spotlight. Although Roby stated he is not worried about the past surely he will be hoping Sunday ends in similar fashion as his last run in with the Chiefs did.