ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In those opening weeks of training camp, which coincidentally were the opening weeks of Bradley Roby's first NFL summer, Roby learned quickly, somewhat painfully, that things were going to be different.
“I'm not going to lie; it opened my eyes,” Roby said. “But I knew I was going to have struggles early, you have to kind of accept that. It's all about fixing your mistakes. It's all about once you mess up, ‘OK, what happened?' Deciding what you can do to fix it and repping it so you don't do it again. Then you're good, eventually your game will show it, but at first you get a look at how far you have to go.”
And there's a good reason for that. It is the age-old math of play calling: Next-level quarterback plus aggressive offensive coordinator equals problems for the rookie cornerback across the line of scrimmage. So, Mr. Roby, meet Mr. Manning.
“And early on, we were probably picking on him a bit to let him know -- a ‘welcome-to-the-NFL'- type deal,” Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “He's done a good job, and he's really matched up well against our older guys. It seemed like last week, he did a really good job.”
When the Broncos did their pre-draft due diligence on Roby and checked out off-the-field issues and maturity questions, they came away with their profile. And their assessment was that, like a lot of gifted college players, Roby had been coddled some, needed to grow up some and that he was well worth the 31st pick of the first round.
The Broncos took him there because they saw what John Elway has called “maybe the best cover corner in the draft” and saw a player with the physical capabilities to play right now in a defense that could use players with Roby's size, speed and physicality.
But a fresh start in the NFL isn't always what a newly minted rookie expects. And the Broncos' clean slate for Roby came with some opening remarks from defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
“Right away, first day,” Del Rio said. “First day I met with him, I let him know that I don't want you to be frustrated come November or October if you spend the first part of the season not playing much, because that could happen because we've got a good group. So if you want to play, earn your way. You're going to have to come out here and fight every day; you're behind because these guys have been here and they know what it takes. But I don't think he was fazed by it; I think he appreciated that and he went about his work and continues to go about his work. My message to him is you still have a long way to go, so keep grinding.”
Not exactly hugging it out, but it's why as the Broncos prepare to close out the preseason Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys, Roby has earned his way into the rotation in the secondary. Roby, especially over the past two weeks, has shown aggressiveness in coverage and the athleticism to maintain his footwork and play the ball.
With Chris Harris on schedule to start the Sept. 7 opener against the Indianapolis Colts to go with Aqib Talib, Kayvon Webster and Roby, Del Rio has the ability to play a dime package (six defensive backs) that has four cornerbacks physical enough to play along the line of scrimmage if needed and athletic enough to play in coverage.
That's not always been the case over the past two seasons, when the Broncos at times have used a dime look that included three safeties and three cornerbacks. But Roby's presence overall gives Del Rio more options and the ability to have size/speed players on the outside, with Talib, when Harris moves inside to work in the slot.
And while some scouts questioned Roby's maturity and effort, especially in his final season at Ohio State, the Broncos have seen, at least so far, what Champ Bailey has always said separates the ability of some young cornerbacks to make it from the ones who don't. And that's the ability to show some vocational backbone and bounce back from the inevitable tough play in these pass-happy times.
“Being a rookie at this position, in this league, going against these players, you've got to expect you're kind of going to have a little rough beginning, and I'm not going to say it's not going to be rough sometime later on. I just want to make sure when something happens I learn from it,” Roby said. “I don't see it as me messing up, you know ‘OK, that sucks,' and maybe in college I would have beat myself up about it. I'm realizing one play is one play, you have to bounce back from that and make another one. Just win a lot more plays that you lose, and hopefully that gets me a role with this team where when we win, they feel like I helped in some way.”