Former first-round pick Bradley Roby's future in Denver in question

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For much of last offseason as the Denver Broncos cornerback, Bradley Roby seemed to be a significant piece of The Plan.

The plan that included signing quarterback Case Keenum in free agency or figuring out what to do with the No. 5 pick of the draft or the need to create better matchups for Von Miller to rush opposing passers.

But there was also Roby, a fifth-year cornerback headed toward free agency after the season who the Broncos felt was ready to be a starter. So much so, the team traded a five-time Pro Bowl selection at the position in Aqib Talib to the Los Angeles Rams in March.

In the season that will conclude Sunday for the Broncos against the Los Angeles Chargers, Roby has seen some good, some bad and a little of everything in between.

"The last couple weeks, Roby's played really well, he's been more consistent," Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Woods said after Thursday's practice. "The biggest thing for me coaching him is just being a consistent football player and at times he plays up and down. The last couple weeks we've moved him inside, he's played some nickel and I thought he played the last couple weeks pretty well."

Roby, who was the Broncos' first-round pick in the 2014 draft, is currently seventh on the team in tackles (42) with one interception. The move from the complimentary player, almost a luxury in the Broncos' defense, as he was with Talib and Chris Harris Jr. in the lineup, to unquestioned starter hasn't always been smooth this season.

Broncos coach Vance Joseph has consistently talked about the need for Roby to avoid "chasing the ball" to try to create turnovers and to play assignment-sound football. The low point might have been Week 5 -- a 34-16 loss to the New York Jets in which the Broncos surrendered 323 yards rushing -- when there were three Jets touchdowns that went over or past Roby in the game.

But during a run when the Broncos won four of six games to claw their way back to 6-6 on the season, Roby was also lauded for being more reliable in the team's defensive scheme.

"It's always consistency when you go on to become a starter," Harris said. "When you're a backup, or you just play in some situations, if something happens you go to the sideline and regroup. When you're the starter at corner, you're out there and if you make a mistake you have to line with the quarterback looking at you again and you know he's coming your way. You have to get that consistency and I think [Roby] he's been working on that and balling out."

It has been a difficult football December so far for Roby. He received several stitches in his face after a tackle against the Cleveland Browns. On Wednesday, Roby said he felt it was necessary to "defend myself" as he responded to Jason Witten's on-air criticisms that Roby should be pulled from the lineup in the closing minutes of Monday night's loss to the Oakland Raiders because "you never quit in the NFL."

Joseph said Wednesday, "I didn't see that," when asked about Witten's criticisms.

"We want our guys playing with max effort all the time, and I don't question our guys' effort," Woods said. "... We're always pushing that, to get the guys to play as hard as they can every single play."

And now with an offseason of significant change looming as the Broncos have now missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, Sunday could be Roby's last game with the franchise. And if Roby and Shane Ray both depart in free agency, it means the Broncos will have only three -- Miller, Garett Bolles and Bradley Chubb -- of their eight first-round picks in John Elway's tenure as the team's top football decision-maker.

"I'm just going to go out there and do my job," Roby said. "That's all I can worry about, that's all I can control. Everything after that is up to people that's not me. ... I definitely thought about that before. If it is, that's just how life is, I'm good with change. In college I had about three or four head coaches. Here I've had about three or four head coaches. So, life -- things never stay the same, things always change. ... If it is, it's unfortunate. ... I'll definitely take everything in like it is, because it could be. If it is, it is. If it's not, it's not."