ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It was a roller coaster preseason for Buffalo Bills rookie Ronald Darby, the former Florida State cornerback who was thrown into fire this training camp and will make his first NFL start Sunday against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.
Darby, who was thrust into a starting role after veteran cornerback Leodis McKelvin reinjured his broken ankle this summer, allowed several big plays this preseason but also made some plays of his own, snatching two interceptions in a win over the Cleveland Browns.
The second-round pick was also flagged three times for defensive pass interference in three preseason games.
On Tuesday, I sat down with Darby's position coach -- defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson -- to discuss the Bills' top draft pick's play.
Q: Has it been an up-and-down preseason for him?
Henderson: "I would say that's true. There's a learning curve, honestly. And a lot things go into it. But I'll tell you what he's got that you don't have in a lot of rookies that have been exposed a little bit -- and I'll be honest, he's been exposed a little bit, and I told him that, and he's gonna get exposed a little bit, and he's gotta play a little bit better -- but let me tell you what he's got that you don't get with a lot of other rookies: the mentality of it. Next play. That's him. He doesn't say much. He goes out there and competes as hard as he can. Now he got a couple of penalties, but he's competing. It's not like he's getting them because he's beat all the time. He's actually competing. Where you see some guys get flagged for penalties because, guess what? Bad eyes, don't watch the right guy, grab a guy. He's competing. And that's his weak point right now, giving up 15 yards every now and then -- which you would not like to have -- hell, I'm OK with that."
Q: Do you think all of those penalties have been legitimate calls?
Henderson: "Most of them are borderline. But it's judgment. So when you go with judgment, what's gonna happen? It's 50-50. What I really like about the guy is that it doesn't faze him. It doesn't faze him. But it's like I said to him the other day: you're gonna have to learn this league and this league is gonna pick on you because you're the rookie. So if I tell you, 'don't let certain guys get behind you because they can run as fast as you,' you gotta believe that. If I tell you, 'this guy is not the best route runner, get ready to jump his routes,' you can believe that. But you gotta realize one thing: you just came into the league. These guys have been participating for three, four, five years. Their learning curve it already up here. So when they see you, you're down here. Can we get to that balance? We have to. We gotta get there, some kind of way. Because guess what? Those guys are going to try to see if they can expose you."
Q: What can you do get him to play the ball, to get his hands on the ball?
Henderson: "He got his hands on balls. Let's go back the week before [the third preseason game], he intercepted two passes. I don't know if it's because of the quality of personnel, it really doesn't matter. If he continues to do everything he's doing now, he'll get those balls. Because you know what? He's right there. It's not like he's not right there. Go look at what [Martavis Bryant] from Pittsburgh did to him a little bit. Pushed him around a little bit. You can tell him that you gotta bow up, you gotta be stronger down the field. Because that's where they get you, they get you down the field now. The question is, how do you win down the field? Well, for me, you win with your feet down the field. You don't win body language -- by pushing each other -- because you're gonna lose. You gotta get on top and get the ball. Because if you don't, you're gonna get pushed around."
Q: Is it a matter of him getting his head around?
Henderson: "His head was around. He's made that accomplishment. He's got that done. He understands getting his head around, he does that quicker. Now it's going to get the ball."
Q: Rex has said he's put Darby on an island in the preseason, to challenge him more; will you pull back on that early in the season?
Henderson: "I don't know. It's all about match-ups in this league. When you got the other corner that we got [Stephon Gilmore], you always want to say, 'Who's going to match up who?' And I'm going with [Gilmore] first, and then whatever we have to do from there. You know, sometimes what you do in this league is that you put your best corner on the second [receiver] and you double the first [receiver]. So you just don't know which way we're gonna go. Sometimes you might say, 'Hey, best guy go to the second guy.' Well now we know that guy is out of the picture, hopefully. Now we can double their best guy. So if that's the case, that could be a scenario right now, is that [Darby] is going to the best guy and we'll help him. But they won't know, hopefully. But that's just some ways of playing the game."