Ohio State football: Criticism, struggles helped him, Bradley Roby says

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Chris Russell | Dispatch
Cornerback Bradley Roby (1) said he is healthy and intends to participate fully at the NFL combine.

Instead of preparing for this weekend’s NFL combine in Indianapolis, Bradley Roby could already be an NFL veteran.

Given the bumps — physical and otherwise — he has endured over the past 12 months, it would be understandable if the Ohio State cornerback questioned whether he made the right call by playing his redshirt junior season for the Buckeyes.

Roby does not.

Last season wasn’t quite the ride into glory he hoped for, but Roby believes the tests he has been through will make him a better player and a better person.

“I’m glad I came back,” he said from Los Angeles as he trained for the combine. “I learned a lot of valuable things, about myself, about football, about (life) off the field.”

Roby was projected to be a first-round pick in the 2013 draft after leading the country in pass breakups per game. He acknowledged that early last offseason he briefly second-guessed his decision to return to Ohio State.

Then, last July, Roby was involved in an altercation with security personnel at a bar in Bloomington, Ind. He was charged with misdemeanor battery, which was reduced to disorderly conduct and then conditionally dismissed after video revealed that Roby was more victim than perpetrator.

Still, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer suspended Roby for the season opener, and Roby admitted that he didn’t start the season as prepared as he should have been. Then, in Ohio State’s Big Ten opener against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes’ defensive game plan centered on stopping the Badgers’ vaunted running game, which it mostly did — but with a price. Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis had a huge game, catching 10 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown. Critics blamed Roby.

“That’s from people who don’t really watch football or really know what’s going on,” Roby said. “I think that’s the fans who see a couple big plays and try to attribute that (to one player). At the end of the day, I had eight tackles, three pass breakups, a pick, and we won the game. That would be a great game for everybody (else).”

Not that Roby was satisfied with his performance.

“I didn’t play as well as I should have, I know that,” he said. “I was kind of out there (on an island), but that’s what I enjoy to do. We held an offense that was rushing for 300 yards a game to only 100 yards. (Abbrederis) had 10 catches for 200 yards, (but) he only caught four against me.”

Still, Roby knew he had to rededicate himself. He practiced and studied the game more diligently, and his play improved in the second half of the season. Roby was named first-team all-Big Ten by both coaches and media.

“I definitely learned a lot from that whole situation,” Roby said of the early-season criticism. “It wasn’t an easy moment, to have everybody questioning me. I actually think that helped me in the long run because now I know what it takes to always go out and have a good game.”

But Roby’s season, like his team’s, ended in disappointment. Roby suffered a knee injury in the loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, though he gutted it out the best he could. He feared he had a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but the actual injury — a hyperextended knee and deep bone bruise — was bad enough.

His knee didn’t heal in time for him to play in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson.

“Bone bruises take six to eight weeks to heal,” Roby said. “I only had a three- to four-week turnaround. My knee was so swollen that I couldn’t practice. That last week before the game, I could run a little bit more and tried to go out and do some things, but I just wasn’t ready.”

His absence was keenly felt, as All-America receiver Sammy Watkins torched the Buckeyes’ vulnerable secondary.

“I wanted to play that game,” Roby said. “I wanted to end my career going against some top guys and leave my mark at Ohio State with that game. Unfortunately, my injury prevented me from that.”

It was the last of several lingering injuries Roby played through in 2013. He didn’t want to specify the others, other than to say he spent more time than he wanted in the trainer’s room.

Roby said he is healthy now and intends to participate fully at the combine. He is considered a borderline first-round pick, but he could improve his stock with a strong workout. Roby has run the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds at Ohio State and hopes to match or surpass that in Indianapolis.

With his speed, athleticism and willingness to sacrifice his lean frame in run support, Roby has all the tools to be a success in the NFL. The struggles of 2013 can only help him, he firmly believes.

“I feel I matured a lot more than I would have if I’d have left last year,” he said.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

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