Redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby faced high expectations, including his own, heading into the Ohio State football team’s 2013 season.
In March, Roby said he planned to enter the 2014 NFL Draft following this season and expected to be a top-10 pick.
Through OSU’s first eight games — seven of which he played in — he has not lived up to those expectations.
Roby hasn’t been short on confidence in himself though. His bio on his personal Twitter account, @Brad_Roby1, says he is a “2014 National Champion,” and Roby said during spring football in March that his other goals for the season included winning the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back, and earning the Chuck Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation’s best defensive player.
Those goals were seen as attainable by many. In addition to being named a preseason first-team All-American, he also was named to preseason watch lists for the Thorpe, Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski and Walter Camp awards.
When the Thorpe and Bednarik awards released their lists of semifinalists this week, however, Roby’s name was absent.
Roby’s season started off with a suspension from OSU’s first game against Buffalo after he was involved in an incident at a bar in Bloomington, Ind., in July. He was held out of the starting lineup in the Buckeyes’ next game versus San Diego State, although he did play the majority of the game with the rest of OSU’s defensive starters.
In his first start of the season — OSU’s third game and first road game of the season against California — he was beaten in coverage on multiple touchdown receptions. He had another tough outing against Wisconsin Sept. 28, when he spent most of the night matched up against Wisconsin redshirt-senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who accounted for more than half of Wisconsin’s offensive yards in the game.
Roby has made some coverage mistakes this season, he acknowledged Saturday, but justified those mistakes by saying “everybody,” including three-time NFL All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, gets beat at the cornerback position.
“That’s the life of a cornerback,” Roby said. “People get beat all the time. I see Revis get beat all the time. It’s so easy to make a mistake. Our mistakes are glorified because everybody sees them.”
In the week leading up to Saturday’s game against Penn State, OSU coach Urban Meyer said Roby has played “fantastic” at times this season, but also acknowledged Roby has not had a great start to his season.
“He’s not playing at the same level he did a year ago,” Meyer said Oct. 21.
While this season Roby has two interceptions, 37 total tackles and a blocked punt which he also recovered for a touchdown, he does not feel as though he has had as many playmaking opportunities this year.
“I had more opportunities last year because a lot of teams didn’t really know who I was,” Roby said. “I can’t really control that. I can only control what plays come to me. If I don’t have the opportunity to make plays, I can’t make plays.”
Roby’s assessment could be right, but his mistakes are evident. Roby’s reason for these mistakes, though, is his aggression on the field.
“When you mess up is when you try to make too many plays when you’re not supposed to,” Roby said. “That’s when I had trouble earlier in the season trying to make too many plays when I shouldn’t have been doing that.”
Roby said he knew his game Saturday against Penn State would be an important one, as it included a matchup with Nittany Lions junior wide receiver Allen Robinson, the recipient of the Big Ten’s Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award in 2012.
“I knew that going into the game, they had a good receiver (Robinson) on the other side, that a lot of people were going to be watching our matchup, and I just tried to make every opportunity that I could when I played against him to make sure I was on my A-game,” Roby said.
Although Roby spent some of the game covering Robinson, OSU decided to line up its other starting cornerback, junior Doran Grant, against Robinson for most of the matchup.
Nonetheless, the Buckeyes won, 63-14, and Meyer said he felt Roby played his best game of the season.
“He really had a great week of practice, and that’s his whole issue is his practice,” Meyer said Tuesday. “When he practices well, he plays well.”
Saturday was also an opportunity for Roby to bounce back and play a full game after he was penalized and ejected in the first quarter of OSU’s 34-24 win against Iowa a week before for targeting a defenseless receiver.
Roby said he disagreed with the call that was made, and said it was “very tough” not being able to play.
“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that hit,” Roby said Saturday after the game against Penn State. “If that’s a penalty, I just don’t know how to play football.”
Roby said the rule that automatically disqualifies players for a targeting penalty, which was implemented for the first time this season, should be changed.
“That’s not fair to do to a player. I prepare my tail off that whole week for that game and to be kicked out in the first quarter, I felt like it was very unfair,” Roby said. “I think it just gives the refs too much power in the game and I feel like that shouldn’t be, but that’s not my case, that’s not my power to do so I have to just abide by the rules.”
Roby said his focus for the rest of this season is on “being a leader” and “winning every game.”
Some media draft analysts no longer project Roby to be a top-10 or even a first-round draft selection. ESPN’s Todd McShay does not rank Roby among his top 32 prospects for the 2014 draft.
Roby’s personal expectation of being a top-10 draft selection, however, had not changed as of Saturday.
“I hear (the criticism), but that’s the media’s job,” Roby said. “The media’s job is to talk and our job is to just go out there and just play football.
“Throughout the season you’re going to have ups and downs, nobody’s going to be perfect, especially at my position,” Roby added. “Just because you make a few bad plays here and there doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you can’t be this or that.”
Roby’s next opportunity to impress comes Saturday, when the Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) are scheduled to play Purdue (1-6, 0-3) in West Lafayette, Ind.