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Rookie progress report: Bradley Roby seizes a role

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A deep team with an armada of players returning from season-ending injuries the previous year creates the luxury of not drafting for immediate need.

But cornerback Bradley Roby seemed destined to be the exception of the Broncos' 2014 draft class, given the need for up to four quality cornerbacks in a league that is driven by the pass now more than ever.

The Broncos do not have to rely on the rest of their rookies -- at least, not yet. But their progress still bears monitoring as we catch up with the rookies on the 53-man roster after three games:


Games played: 3
Defensive snaps: 183
Special-teams plays: 25


So far:** All the work of OTAs and training camp has paid off for Roby, who survived the rigorous test of facing receivers like Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders every day.

"I definitely saw some growth," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr., recalling the early days of training camp. "Somebody would catch a ball on him, and then he was just done. He'd be down on himself.

"For him to not be down and continue to fight through the whole game, I mean, that's huge for a rookie, because most rookies, teams are going to keep attacking them, keep attacking them, keep attacking them, and they'll keep their head down."

Not Roby. By Week 1, he lined up against Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne, a potential Hall of Famer. His success then led to extensive work in Weeks 2 and 3; even after Kayvon Webster returned to the 53-man roster, Roby had earned the No. 3 role.

Teams throw at him -- 20 times already this season -- but their success has dropped as Roby has improved his tackling and allowed fewer yards after the catch. His pursuit and aggression were always there, and showed on his work against the run during training camp. Now he's adding improvement in coverage to his pre-existing skill set.

"As long as he's playing smart, playing with his leverage and using good technique, he's got the talent to cover some of the top guys," said Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio.

Roby worked in the slot during the first two weeks, but shifted back to the outside when Harris drew the Percy Harvin assignment last week.


Games played: 3
Offensive snaps: 0
Special-teams plays: 17

So far: In three weeks as the Broncos' punt returner, Burse has shown some moves, but is still looking for his breakaway return. In three games, Burse fielded nine punts, calling fair catches on five and returning four for 19 yards, including a 15-yarder in Seattle in which he made two men miss and broke another tackle after a 66-yard blast from Jon Ryan.

"I'm getting more and more comfortable, and I'm really starting to grow into that role," Burse said.

The most important lesson for Burse is learning when to take the fair catch and when to return it.

"It's not like college anymore. Those punters know how to kick it where they want to kick it," said Burse. "It's rough. You've got to know if you've got a double vise (two men blocking one gunner), then most likely, you're going to have some room, but if you've got a guy singled and a punter is kicking it to the single-side gunner, then you've got to call the fair catch.

"It's all about making the right decision, knowing your surroundings and, really, having a feel for it."



Games played: 3
Offensive snaps: 2
Special-teams plays: 31

So far: He lined up at fullback for one snap in the fourth quarter against Indianapolis in Week 1, but has yet to touch the football since his stellar preseason. (His second offensive repetition was on an end-of-half kneeldown in Seattle last week.) Given the Broncos' struggles at keeping defenders out of the backfield on run plays, the Broncos might attempt to use more formations with a fullback or a second back.

Denver made occasional use of Virgil Green in shotgun alignments next to Peyton Manning in the first three games, but he suffered a concussion Sunday and must go through the league-mandated protocol before he can return. If Green misses time, Thompson could be in line for more extensive work against Arizona on Oct. 5 as a second back flanking Manning in the shotgun.


Games played: 3
Defensive snaps: 11
Special-teams plays: 54

So far: All of his defensive snaps came in Seattle, as Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio wanted to capitalize on his speed by using him as an outside pass rusher and in coverage. Barrow could see situational use going forward, although the expected return of Danny Trevathan could limit repetitions for all backup linebackers in the coming weeks, since the Broncos might still try to work starting middle linebacker Nate Irving and Trevathan's fill-in, Brandon Marshall into nickel packages.


Games played: 3
Defensive snaps: 2
Special-teams plays: 52

So far: He made his defensive debut on a third-and-20 play 4:56 into the second quarter in Seattle, and re-entered on third-and-3 from the Denver 29-yard-line in overtime. On the first play, Nelson watched and then rushed Russell Wilson up the middle; in overtime, he sprinted through the A-gap, which forced Wilson outside, where he ran out of bounds after gaining a crucial five yards.


Games played: 1
Offensive snaps: 0
Special-teams plays: 10

So far: It's a numbers game for Latimer. He's at one of the deepest positions on the team, and with Burse having a role as the punt returner, finding a spot for him among the active 46 is difficult, unless he can work and wrest one of the active-roster spots away from the Broncos' only veteran backup receiver, Andre Caldwell. During Week 1, he conferred with Ring of Fame wide receiver Rod Smith, who gave Latimer some pointers on keeping his pad level low, but also provided his contact information so Latimer could seek him out in the future. Latimer's playing time this year rests on the health of the receivers in front of him, but his future remains bright.


Games played: 0

So far: It has been nothing but watching and learning for the Broncos' third-round pick. For the moment, he provides depth and flexibility, given his work during organized team activities and training camp at guard and right tackle. Unless there is an unexpected wave of injuries up front, this should be a season in which Schofield grows on the practice field, with a potential push toward a starting slot somewhere up front next year.

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