Browse through photos of the first half from the Broncos' preseason game against the Texans.
DENVER — Being a rookie in the NFL puts a target on your back from the first day.
Sure, the funny haircuts are one thing, but it's the play on the field that really wakes up a player. After all, it's quite the jump to go from facing college players to playing men who could have a decade or more of experience at the highest level.
As fresh meat, a rookie's transition period is a shock to the system to get them accustomed and learning as fast as possible.
Bradley Roby knows this already. As a cornerback, Roby gets put in isolation against wide receivers with much more NFL experience than what little he has so far. Going up against anyone who meets that qualification is a tough matchup, but facing Demaryius Thomas on a daily basis in practice is a step beyond the average wide-out. Taking on such tough challenges is part of the process for Roby, and he's been both welcoming and patient in making adjustments for his continued development.
Roby got pushed to the forefront quickly as he was inserted into the starting lineup while Chris Harris Jr. and Kayvon Webster rehabbed. Being a rookie and starting at cornerback is often perceived as blood in the water for quarterbacks looking for inexperienced opponents to exploit.
Against the 49ers, Roby didn't see many passes thrown his way, but the Texans were eager to put him to the test. Matched up against seven-time Pro Bowler Andre Johnson for much of the night, Roby held his own.
"I went into the game knowing that they're going to try me a little bit, just being a rookie and going against Andre. I felt it coming," he said. "I just wanted to be on my A-game and I think I did that."
At 6-foot-3, Johnson's a tough cover. Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick went to him early, unable to connect over the middle with Roby stuck to him. They tried going to him on crossing and hook routes, but the longest of three catches for Johnson was for nine yards. Roby's hit on Johnson in the second quarter over the middle forced the Texans into a fourth down, though they would convert it.
Roby's most impressive play was a near-interception coming within the last two minutes of the half. "I know they wanted to get out of bounds real fast and I felt the receiver was going to run an out. I just went for it," Roby said.
Though he was disappointed that he didn't hold on for the pick, Roby's play was instrumental in keeping Houston's offense from moving the sticks, which in turn set the Broncos' offense up for a scoring drive.
All told, Roby had four tackles and two pass deflections. It was a very solid outing for the rookie, who has been improving week to week.
This past week was a pretty formative one as the Broncos hosted the Texans for three days of joint practices. Facing players they would later play against Saturday night was a bit of a help for Roby, and assuredly for other players on either side. Being able to get familiar with an opponents' timing or moves, even in practice, helps a player build a wider foundation. For rookies who haven't played against much NFL talent in preseason, this can be especially important.
"We go against some guys in practice and kind of figure out what they like to do, what their strengths and their weaknesses are," Roby said. "When it gets to the game, it's a little bit easier because during the week a player and team you've never seen until that game is a little different. It takes some adjustment time, some time to adapt."
He's finding his footing at a very important time heading into the regular season, and holding onto a consistent mindset as he got settled into his first preseason games.
"The first game, I was kind of nervous, but at the end of the day, it's just football. Once you realize that, you can just go out and do you," Roby said. "If you're confident in what you can do on the field, then you're going to do it every time."
"I'm playing well right now, just keeping the momentum going. It's a process. You can't expect to come in and be Darrelle Revis from day one. It's a slow, steady climb to the top and I'm willing to put the work in."