Roby works on missing ingredient

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The process of self-evaluation started with his physical skills.

Those checked out just fine, certainly good enough to play on Sundays next fall.

Hardly anybody works harder on the mental side of the game, either, so Bradley Roby ticked off another box on his NFL-ready checklist.

Had he stopped there, the decision seemed pretty easy for an ESPN.com first-team All-America cornerback who was eligible to put his name in for the draft thanks to a redshirt season when he first arrived on campus at Ohio State. But the more Roby thought about it, the longer he waited to make his plans official, there were two things nagging at him as he debated leaving the Buckeyes.

And he could conceivably take care of both of them simultaneously by returning for one more run as a junior.

"The NFL isn't going anywhere," Roby said. "It did take me awhile. I wasn't really sure; I had to think about it a lot and go over it. Time to time I talked to 10,000 people about it, and I prayed about it. One day I had that feeling, I just had a feeling that I'm not ready yet.

"I'm physically ready on the field and mentally, but it's just not my time yet."

That message is reinforced in an Ohio State meeting room for the cornerbacks, where position coach Kerry Coombs has posted a goal that both reinforces Roby's pro-level talent and validates his call to stick around for another year.

Like every other defensive back Coombs works with, Roby's name and picture are posted with a goal specific to him at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. But the target for Roby has nothing to do with improving his coverage skills, developing on-field awareness or devoting more time to studying the game.

For a player who has made it well known he wants to win a championship before leaving the program, Coombs zeroed in on an area in which Roby did have ample room to grow in the offseason -- and challenged him for everybody to see.

"The No. 1 goal for him is to be a verbal force in the team," Coombs said. "That is what he's doing. In the meeting room. He's teaching those young guys. What does that do? It helps him develop as a player.

"He's got to have something to say, first of all. It helps him develop as a leader, which is important to us and important to him. And it makes those kids much better, because the guy who is in the fire is different than the old guy standing behind them. I think he's doing a great service to the team that way."

At times during spring camp, finding and developing his voice was about the only work Roby could do. That was partly due to a nagging shoulder injury that kept him out of some full-contact situations such as the spring game, but it also was by design of the coaching staff since the Buckeyes didn't need Roby to prove anything physically a year after breaking up 17 passes, intercepting two more and finishing third on the team in tackles.

Coombs made a point midway through spring of holding Roby out of scrimmage and forcing him into an unofficial coaching role on the sideline, expecting his top cornerback to engage the rest of the guys in the secondary with tips and observations whenever they came off the field. And considering that at one point heading into last season, coach Urban Meyer was publicly calling out Roby for complacency during workouts in which he was an active participant, the transformation into a veteran with a vocal presence in the locker room and on the field might just about complete the total package.

"That trait is going to carry me way further on the football field and off the football field," Roby said. "I just want to be a better leader, and everything else is going to happen how it's supposed to be.

"If I'm a better leader, the younger guys are going to be better. If the young guys are better, we're going to be better [as a team]. As we're better, we're going to be on TV more. We're on TV more, I'm going to make more plays. See what I'm saying? Everything is going to fall into place once I'm a better leader."

The first domino tipped over when Roby eventually settled on coming back to Ohio State for one last season, which kept Meyer from needing to replace both of his starting cornerbacks from last season.

That should allow the Buckeyes to keep one of the most heralded signing classes of defensive backs on the sideline for a year, giving them valuable time to develop. It also figures to provide some security for the defense overall, which must find six new starters in the front seven but has no shortage of experience in the back end with Roby and senior safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant in the fold.

And if Roby actually does take another step forward in terms of on-field production, perhaps while helping his team chase down that title he so desperately wants, he might find the NFL even more ready for him than vice versa.

"It was 50-50 [to stay or go], but at the same time, I'm not even thinking about that anymore," Roby said. "It was a tough decision, but at the end of the day, I feel like I made the right one.

"I put that behind me, and most likely it's going to be better things to come in the future."

There's not much doubt where he will be headed at this time a year from now. But Roby has a couple of important matters to attend to before then.