The physical ability of Ronald Darby was evident to Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan right away Friday.
“His movement is outstanding,” Ryan said of the team’s second-round draft pick from Florida State. “He can run with probably anybody in this league, so that’s no surprise.”
The question for Darby will be: Can his mind move as fast as his feet?
“We’ll see how things get in,” Ryan said. “It looked like he grasped things pretty quickly.”
It helps, in Ryan’s eyes, to have one of the NFL’s best teachers on his staff in defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson.
“I heard Donnie was already talking to him about the interceptions points and getting his head around,” Ryan said. “Instead of just sticking on a guy – because if you do that the guy will throw it right behind your ear. In each route, generally there is an interception point that you try to find, and if not you locate your guy again. That’s something that we’ll really work on.
“I think Donnie Henderson does it better than anyone, and it’s one of the hardest things to do as a DB. Having a guy that can mentor him, I think, is going to be a great plus for him.”
Darby said communication with Henderson was a two-way street during the first of three minicamp practices for the Bills’ rookies and eligible first-year players.
“Sometimes I was asking him questions or telling him why I did certain things,” Darby said. “He’s not that type of coach to just sit back and let you do whatever you want to and try to talk to you later. He wants to fix it right there on the spot and give you a lot of details.”
Darby said it wasn’t the speed of his first professional practice that made an impact on him – “I’m blessed with some speed myself” – but rather “a lot more technical stuff.”
“The way routes break down, the way receivers cut, things like that,” he said. “The more film you watch, the easier everything will be.”
Ryan said the NFL rule that prohibits contact between a defensive back and receiver outside of 5 yards from the line of scrimmage is one of the biggest adjustments cornerbacks coming from college to the NFL have to make.
“You have to get your contact early,” Ryan said. “You can’t get it downfield. … Double moves, things like that, a lot of times guys are taught that after he sticks it and goes back up, you hit him. You can hit him in college and you can’t do that here. It’s a penalty. That’s a big transition.”
The scheme Darby played in at Florida State and what he’ll be asked to do in Buffalo are quite different, so the learning curve will be steep at first.
“You’re much more multiple coverages in the pro game,” Ryan said.
One focus for Darby on Friday was playing the ball while it was in the air. Ryan got a chuckle earlier in the week about Darby getting criticized for not being thrown at a lot at Florida State – but with only two interceptions and 16 passes defended in two years, he didn’t get his hands on the ball too often.
“With his speed, he’s got that kind of thing where if they throw a deep ball, that ought to be ours,” Ryan said. “That’s how we have to think. Certainly he has all the physical tools. I know his body fat, he was under 2 percent.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been that. … I was like, ‘really, 190 pounds and under 2 percent body fat?’ We’ve got to fatten him up. There’s some place around here that I think I’m going to recommend to him.”
At least for a day, Darby felt like he was back in Tallahassee, as temperatures soared above 80 degrees in Western New York.
“It felt great,” he said. “Just being out there, people as hungry as me went out fighting for a spot and a place here in Buffalo. Today was a lot of fun.”
The Bills have one spot open on their 90-man roster after not signing offensive tackle Jermaine Barton, as the team had previously announced.
In addition, the team will bring Monmouth quarterback Brandon Hill in on a tryout basis Saturday and Sunday.