The Anatomy of a Pick Six
By Tony Gerdeman
Last week when Bradley Roby stepped in front of a first-quarter Taylor Martinez pass and took it back 41 yards for a score, it was more than just the culmination of a singular play. It was the result of three years of preparation, and a week's worth of film study.
Bradley Roby takes off for the endzone after his first interception against Nebraska. Kerry Coombs can be seen in the background with his headset on exhorting Roby.
Photo by Jim Davidson
There are hundreds of college football players around the nation who have the athletic ability to play cornerback. But to be great, athleticism is only the first step.
"The reason that he is good is that God gave him a lot of ability," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said of Roby.
"But the reason that he is great is because he's taken what God has given him and has mastered his craft."
Roby's craft is much more than simply defending a receiver and trying to keep the quarterback from completing a pass. It also requires an incredible amount of film study. Enough study, in fact, to enable him to find the tells and tendencies that give away an opponent's element of surprise.
In the week leading up to the Nebraska game, Roby talked openly about seeing those tendencies in the Husker passing game, as well as his plan of attack. He picked out a handful of routes prior to the game that he was going to jump on, and when he saw what he needed to see, he said that he wasn't going to hesitate.
He trusted his ability and his preparation, and he came away with a pair of interceptions, including the aforementioned pick six.
"We studied that quarterback extremely hard," Coombs said of Martinez.
"The things that he did when he was going to throw the comeback or the curl route, where he was gonna throw the ball, the flight of the ball, and in addition to that, what those receivers were doing when they were breaking those routes off.
"So a kid like Bradley, whose film study is extraordinary – hours and hours of film study – will know his opponent. If you watch those plays, you'll see Bradley flatten out his pedal. He understands the route that's coming, he's prepared for the ball when it comes, and you've got to finish those plays."
And finish he did – exactly 41 yards later.
Earlier in the week Roby talked about having the confidence in his ability and preparation to believe what he sees on the field, and then the determination to attack it without hesitation because he has trust in his film study.
"Confidence comes from knowledge," Coombs said.
"Knowledge that you can do the job that you set out to do, first and foremost. Knowledge of your opponent, which gives you unbelievable confidence heading into a game."
makes his second interception against the Cornhuskers.
Photo by Dan Harker
Cornerbacks are fortunate because they are allowed to have tunnel vision when it comes to their preparation. They don't have to worry about occupying an offensive lineman, or avoiding a pulling guard, or filling a gap.
They basically only have to worry about the man across from them. And considering the ramifications when they let something bad happen, their single-mindedness is understandable.
"For the kids that play the cornerback position, their film study is much more exclusive to the individuals they're going to be playing against, meaning the receivers and the cornerback. They don't need to get bogged down in the details of all of the other things that are going around like a linebacker does.
"What they want to know is how does that guy release off of the line of scrimmage, what does he do in particular routes that gives away those routes, what do they show, what does the quarterback do with the ball in his hands, how does that manifest itself into my opportunity to make a play?"
Roby had all of this understanding in his mind when the opportunity for a big play manifested itself, and he had the confidence in his preparation to attack the play with the sole intention of intercepting Martinez's pass and taking it back for a score.
But it was really no big deal.
"I expect myself to do that," Roby said. "I hold myself to those standards to make plays like that, so that wasn't really a big deal."
If it's possible for humility to also sound cocky, then that's probably the case here. And Coombs would have it no other way.
"I don't want to coach a single corner ever who is not cocky, who doesn't have swagger, who doesn't have arrogance," said Coombs.
"Because the corner that doesn't – everybody's gonna get beat, they're gonna catch a ball – and the kid who puts his head down and decides 'Uh oh, maybe I'm not as good as I think' is gonna get beat again."
Coombs never has to worry about a lack of confidence, however, because Roby will tell you himself that he believes he is one of the very best cornerbacks in the nation.
"I believe in myself and I believe in my talents," he said.
"I know the type of plays that I can make. I feel like I can make a lot of plays on the field, and I don't really see a lot of corners out there doing the things that I can do. I'm not trying to say that in an arrogant way, but I just feel like I'm one of the best, so I just try to go out there every week and prove it."
Real confidence is the result of preparation, but execution is the result of both.
The first step as Roby broke for the ball Saturday night didn't take place on the field, it took place years ago when he first learned how important film study was.
And he's been breaking on the ball ever since.
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