ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Look, Wade Phillips has heard the chatter about the Denver Broncos’ losses in free agency this offseason.
The team’s defensive coordinator, in his fourth decade in the NFL, has heard how the Broncos' defense -- which led the league in most categories in 2015 and powered the team to a Super Bowl win -- can't possibly return to form. Because, the narrative has gone, defensive end Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan signed in Jacksonville and Chicago, respectively, in free agency.
But Phillips doesn’t do the math the same way others do -- and cornerback Bradley Roby is a big reason why.
“We lost two guys -- two out of 11, really 12 if you count Roby, since he started most of the season," Phillips said. “Then in our dime defense, we really lost one guy -- one starter in Malik. ... We play dime 40 percent of the time. In our base defense, we lost two, and in the other one, we lost one. We feel good about the guys we have."
And the Broncos have always felt good about having Roby, the 31st pick of the 2014 draft, in that mix. They've treated Roby like he is a starter, and it's not hard to see why. He's had two seasons with at least 40 tackles despite the fact that he finds himself behind two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. on the depth chart.
In his first regular-season NFL game, Roby was assigned to play one-on-one against then-Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne with the game on the line. Since then, the Broncos have continued to try to figure out ways to get him on the field, including putting him at safety for a smattering of plays.
“I see myself as a starter," Roby said.
Asked if it bothers him to be overshadowed in a defense with its share of star power, Roby added: “It matters a little bit to me, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter because people see what I do on the field. Of course it matters to me as a competitor. I’m someone that wants to be the top guy. I understand how the league works. It’s not a big deal."
Roby convinced former Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio fairly quickly of what he could offer the team’s defense. Del Rio used Roby plenty in specialty packages in Roby’s rookie season. And that was after Del Rio had greeted the just-drafted Roby with: “We’ve got good players here. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t play."
But when Phillips arrived to be the Broncos’ defensive coordinator before the 2015 season, he was quick to design ways to get Roby on the field in a defense that already included Harris and Talib. One of those ways was to play Roby at safety in the team’s base defense.
And Roby, for one, still believes he is an ascending player as he enters his third season.
“You should always build on last year because you always want to build on success," Roby said. “You never want to forget it, but you always want to keep building. … I have a lot of things that I can correct from my first two years. I can learn the game more. I was talking to coach Phillips … there are some parts of my game that I don’t even pay attention to that I know guys that are on the top level definitely pay attention to. Just recognizing routes in the game and stuff. There are a lot of things."
As the Broncos work through their first set of organized team activities this week -- starting on Tuesday -- it’s clear that Roby is a big part of the plan once again. In a pass-happy league, the teams with plenty of depth at cornerback have the best chance of competing at the highest level defensively.
Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has even said he considers cornerback one of the most important positions in terms of roster-building in these pass-happy times.
“You only get one opportunity to be in the league," Roby said. "I’m only going to be in the league for however many years. Why not try to win as many as possible? Especially when I’m on a team like I’m on now. I’m just doing whatever I can to keep getting better and keep winning because that’s all I want to do. I hate losing.”