clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A 'take-no prisoners' kind of corner, Roby's raw talent ripe for Broncos' D

New, comments

Senior writer Chuck McKeever of Ohio State University's SB Nation blog tells Broncos Country why Bradley Roby is going to be a breakout player for the Broncos. Yes, he's a little biased ... and he's got good reason to be.

Justin Edmonds

In our latest installment of "Ask the guys who've been watching the guys who just became Broncos to talk about those guys" ... we hear from Chuck McKeever, a self-described "lifelong Broncos fan and massive Buckeye homer" who writes for Ohio State's Land-Grant Holy Land.

And just in case you're wondering, you're really going to like what he has to say about Bradley Roby, the Denver Broncos' first-round draft pick:

Chuck - Instrumental to the unification of Italy in 1870 were three men - Mazzini, Cavour, and Garibaldi - who were known as "The Soul, The Sword, and The Brain." Each brought something unique to the table politically and socially, spelled out in their nommes de guerre.

On the 2013 Ohio State defense, recent Pittsburgh Steelers draftee Ryan Shazier was the Brain. Senior safety Christian Bryant, now a St. Louis Ram, was the Soul. And Bradley Roby, one of the most exciting Buckeyes in recent memory, was undoubtedly the Sword - a ferocious, take-no-prisoners corner who welcomed a good mid-air joust or terrestrial fight for position.

I couldn't have been more pleased to see Roby come off the board at No. 31. I will try to keep my analysis objective and on-track...but what's sports fandom without a little subjectivity?

MHR - Roby made a great first impression with many fans during his Broncos press conference in which he said repeatedly that he hates to lose. How did you see Roby's competitive nature help and/or hurt him on the football field at Ohio State and how will this play out in the pros?

Chuck - Roby is definitely a competitor, and that translated to his play on the field in his three years as a Buckeye. This can be both a boon and a hindrance - you love to see a guy play with that much passion, and Roby laid some of the biggest hits last year by a corner that I've ever seen.

Roby is a ferocious, take-no-prisoners corner who welcomes a good mid-air joust.

Of course, the flip side of that is the risk he runs of committing penalties. The best example of this is the hit he laid against Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz in the first quarter of what was at that point a close game. After review, Roby was ejected for targeting. Any Ohio State fan worth his salt will tell you that the call was crap and Roby led with his shoulder, but that misses the point. In today's NFL, refs patrol for that stuff so tightly that you can't tackle like that and expect no consequences.

MHR - Roby is clearly an athletic machine - fast, physical, agile and a good jumper. How would you assess his chances at success against big, athletic receivers in the NFL where the game is bigger and faster and technique is crucial? And what do you think he'll need to do more of to ensure success on the field?

Chuck - I want to focus on the positives here because I am an unabashed Roby fan. So let's get the ugly stuff out of the way first.

I speak, of course, of the 2013 game against Wisconsin. Roby was pretty much invisible for the entire evening, allowing Packers draftee Jared Abbrederis to rack up 207 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches. Flustered all game, Roby also committed a holding penalty in the fourth quarter that led to a Wisconsin touchdown on the next play. So, not his proudest showing.

The good news is that Roby has decent size, at 5'11 and 192 pounds, and plays even bigger than that. He was masterful in college at breaking up plays that looked like they should have gone for big gains, reaching around and through bigger opponents to strip the ball away at the precise moment of contact.

He's a bit of a gambler, no doubt - you'd like to see him put himself in a position that doesn't require so much artistry to interrupt passes, and get inside guys a little earlier on the break - but it's worked out for him so far. The biggest test of this might come in Week 7 against the 49ers, who have a big, rangy trio of pass-catchers with strong hands and great vision.

Working on his first step and learning to stay with guys who run more precise routes (like Abbrederis) will be key to his success at the NFL level. I think one of my favorite aspects of Roby's game is his ability to make a variety of tackles in space - he can lay the wood, sure, but the man can also flat-out form tackle when he tries to. He repositions his body well to tackle bigger wideouts and backs, and doesn't get caught up trying to tackle too high.

MHR - A lot was made in the media of Roby's "off-the-field" issues before Draft Day, but fans of both the Buckeyes and Broncos seem unconcerned (including Bronco GM John Elway!). And one writer at Land-Grant Holy Land believes if Roby is "plugged into the correct system and a strong locker room" he will succeed. Why is Denver a good "locker room" for Roby (and why should our fans feel confident those "incidents" are done)?

Chuck - Buckeye fans like to think that Roby's molehill of issues has been blown out of proportion into the mountain the media made it out to be.

He was suspended by Urban Meyer (yes, the same Urban Meyer who allegedly never holds his players accountable for anything) for the opener against Buffalo last season for an incident in which charges were later dropped, and he was cited for an OVI a few days before the draft after being found passed out behind the wheel. Nothing to be proud of, sure, but I'm not sure all the hubbub has been warranted.

But the easy answer here is that any locker room with Peyton Manning in it is a locker room where you'd better come ready to work. A guy who maybe has some maturing to do can really benefit from an atmosphere like that, where a solid core of veterans garner enough respect that the young guys work that much harder to earn their spots. Oh, and going against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in practice every day certainly won't hurt in terms of development as a player and as a person.

The other side of this (just speculating now) is that the Broncos were stopped just short of claiming a Super Bowl title last year. No one ever remembers 2nd place, unless 2nd place comes in as the favorite and gets embarrassed on national television. There is nothing that those guys will want more than to be back on that stage again next year with a chance to prove the world wrong. Do you think they'll let a rookie get away with anything less than his absolute best when that's on the line (or when the Seahawks host the Broncos in Week 3)?

MHR - Not much is ever said of Special Teams capabilities in players, but it appears Roby could be a bright spot in that arena. Does Roby have potential to be a secret weapon there?

Chuck - Boy, does he ever. People definitely overlook that side of Roby, but he's stepped in as a playmaker on Special Teams throughout his career and made those snaps count. My personal favorite of those moments was his blocked punt/touchdown against Northwestern, a play that was the lone bright spot in the first half of a game the Buckeyes looked on pace to bungle away. Roby almost caught the ball off the punter's foot before pulling it off the turf and holding on for the score.

Per Sports-Reference, Roby also recorded two punt return touchdowns at Ohio State...on just three career return attempts. Clearly, he's got some playmaking ability on football's least-glamorous down. He blocked three punts in his career, too.

MHR - We lost fan-favorite Champ Bailey this off-season but added Aqib Talib in free agency and hope to get Chris Harris Jr. back from a torn ACL to be our top two cornerbacks. Roby is likely to challenge Kayvon Webster as the third corner. Knowing his strengths and weaknesses, what would you think of Roby seeing some game time as a rookie this coming season?

Chuck - I'm honestly salivating at the thought. Roby has some growing to do as a player, no doubt, but he has a good combination of raw athletic ability and coverage skills. At this stage, you don't want Roby being asked to challenge the other team's No. 1 guy, but Roby has the potential to be that kind of player a few years down the road.

I've got Week 5 against the Cardinals circled on my calendar as Roby's potential breakout game - Carson Palmer isn't exactly risk-averse as a quarterback, and Roby won't be trying to shadow Larry Fitzgerald. Week 6 against the Jets also makes for some intriguing matchups in the secondary, and I think Roby could more than hold his own against the likes of Stephen Hill as a putative No. 3 guy.

MHR - This past weekend Roby finished Rookie Mini Camp and Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said he was "very bright" and "a good communicator." What can you say about his ability to be coached, to learn new schemes and adapt to different ideas?

Chuck - Roby's biggest struggles in 2013 came when the Buckeyes played zone coverage - and Luke Fickell's D ran a lot of zone coverage last season. Roby's biggest strength is his press-man coverage ability, where he is able to showcase all of those skills I've been raving about. He can't expect that the defense will be tailored to suit his style of play as a 3rd or 4th corner, but he will also have a longer season to learn the ropes and gain some insight from Del Rio.

I think Roby can be coached into a serviceable zone corner if given the time to become a part of the system. He likes to be out on an island, and he might someday be the guy the Broncos call on for that duty. In the meantime, there will certainly be growing pains. But the quality of instruction matters, as does the makeup of the players around you, and I think Roby will learn plenty from Del Rio about navigating these problematic coverages.

MHR - What is a fun fact to know about Brad Roby?

Chuck - Less of a fun fact and more of a sore spot is that Roby missed the 2013 Orange Bowl against Clemson with an injury, which may or may not have contributed to the fact that Sammy Watkins absolutely smoked the Buckeye secondary all game.

But in 2012, Roby was the only defensive player to score touchdowns in three different ways - he returned an interception for a touchdown against Nebraska, recovered a fumbled punt in the end zone against Miami (OH), and recovered a blocked punt in the end zone against Indiana.

MHR - We're hoping that fun fact comes in handy this season!