Roby’s value in nickel on rise
Even though it’s not listed thatway on the Broncos’ depth chart, cornerback Bradley Roby is a starter. In the minds of the Denver coaches, teammates and himself.
The Broncos play more than half their defensive snaps in a nickel package, where Roby resides as an outside cornerback. In a secondary full of veterans with enough personality to overfill a room, Roby, 23, is the laid-back youngster.
“He’s a top-notch draft choice, but yet he’s got two all-pro players ahead of him,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “That could bother a lot of guys, but I see it as driving Bradley to be a great player.”
Roby usually is the last player on the field after practice, because he is getting extra reps with defensive backs coach Joe Woods.
Roby admittedly didn’t play as well as he wanted to early in the season. His production was valuable to the team, but he likes to measure himself against cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib because they have a knack for making plays.
Roby said he had to get better with technique and playing down-and-distance situational football better.
The improvements have begun to seep into his performance.
In last week’s AFC divisional playoff game against Pittsburgh, Roby was thrust into full-time action when Harris had to remove himself from the Broncos’ base coverage because of a bruised left shoulder.
Roby made a season-changing play when he punched the ball away from Steelers running back Fitzgerald Toussaint midway through the fourth quarter, creating a fumble recovered by outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. That takeaway set up the Broncos’ go-ahead touchdownin their 23-16 victory over Pittsburgh.
“He’s gained confidence as the year has gone along,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said of Roby. “He certainly made some big plays.”
The stage gets even bigger in the AFC championship game, with Denver facing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Roby is likely to have coverage at various times on Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell. And, if Harris’ shoulder injury re-emerges, Roby could be lined up across Julian Edelman.
But just because the stakes have increased doesn’t mean Roby will be consumed by the situation.
“It’s been a childhood dream of mine to get the Super Bowl. I know what the atmosphere is going to be,” Roby said. “It’s going to be a huge game. Nobody has to tell me that.”
The veterans don’t have to tell him about the importance of Sunday’s game, but they have told him about Brady.
Harris was in Roby’s spot a fewyears ago. The kid in a group of veterans in the secondary. He remembers how Brady would often give him long stares presnap or send more motion to his side before the play.
“Brady is always going to test the young cats,” Harris said. “He’s always going to see what they’re doing.”
The bull’s-eye is firmly on Roby’s chest.