Roby’s value in nickel on rise

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Cameron Wolfe

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.

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