ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Even after four years of waiting, Wednesday must have been bittersweet for cornerback Bradley Roby.
As 2 p.m. MT arrived, the Broncos finalized a trade to send cornerback Aqib Talib to the Los Angeles Rams.
With that news, Roby officially stepped into a starting role.
And with that news, Roby also said goodbye to a mentor.
"It's unfortunate because of how close we were, me and Talib," Roby said this week. "With everyone, we were just so close, so tight. It was another guy from the 'No-Fly Zone' that's gone now, and it's a new era. We're getting younger. It's unfortunate, but it's a business, and nothing lasts forever. You can't expect me, him and Chris [Harris Jr.] to play on the same team for 10 to 15 years. It just doesn't work like that. I've learned that in life you have to embrace change, because life is change."
Though Roby and Talib are now on different teams, the 2014 first-round pick doesn't expect their relationship to change.
"He's like my mentor in the league," Roby said. "Everybody kind of has that older guy. I remember Talib said that his guy was [former Tampa Bay Buccaneer] Ronde Barber, and mine is him. I'm going to train with him in the offseason, so I'm going down to Dallas on Thursday.
"It's not like we're not going to talk anymore, we're just not on the same team. It's kind of like when the basketball players split up — when D-Wade goes back to Miami. The guys split up, but they're still tight. They're still cool, even though they're on different teams."
As Roby transitions to a starting role alongside Chris Harris Jr., he'll lean on lessons from Talib he's gathered over the past four seasons.
"The biggest thing I learned from him was just studying," Roby said. "Really learning how to study film, watching tape. Knowing tendencies and things like that. He taught me how to be a pro studying-wise. A lot of people see all the outside stuff that happens with him, but he's a Hall of Fame guy, and it's for a reason. It's because he puts in a lot of work, he's put in a lot of work, a lot of study time. Just being a young guy watching that, I would be dumb not to pick up [those habits]."
Now, Roby's chance to show his progress has arrived — and there's reason to expect he won't disappoint.
Roby has earned 14 starts over the course of his four-year career with the Broncos, but his game in Miami last season may have provided the best example of his potential as a starter.
Filling in for Talib, Roby notched three official pass breakups — and the Broncos awarded him five after a more thorough review of the film.
The Ohio State product also added a forced fumble and fumble recovery, and Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods praised Roby's performance during his news conference the following week.
"His coaches have done a good job with him just really focusing on technique," Woods said in December. "Roby will get in trouble sometimes if his technique's not right. As long as his technique's right, athletically he can cover anybody in this league. So really, [it's about] just being disciplined with what he's doing.
Roby said this week he also believes that playing nearly every snap should put him in better position to succeed.
"I think when I'm out there the majority of the time, I just get in a way better flow," Roby said. "It's not easy to sit the first two downs and then come out on third down and be 100 percent, especially when it's 20 degrees outside. Something that I always didn't really like, but I knew my role and I wanted to play my role as best as possible."
Then there's the mental aspect. Before his previous starts, Roby's game prep expanded to include studying more personnel groupings than just the pass-specific packages he's starred in during past seasons.
Roby said that type of preparation gives him a better overall idea of what an offense is trying to do — which then pays dividends in games.
Should he continue to improve as his starts become more frequent, the Broncos may find themselves with a truly game-changing player.
In 2017, his 17 passes defenses matched a Broncos' record for the most in a single season in the past 10 years. With more playing time, Roby's impact should only grow.
And after four years of waiting for his opportunity, Roby is more than ready to take advantage.
"It's beautiful," Roby said. "As time in my life has gone on, I've always been patient. I've never really stressed. I never really fretted when other guys in my position would worry about the wrong things. I always kind of just did my job and stayed patient and stayed true and believed that my time would come. And now my time is here, so I'll show the real me."