"Find the ball! Two-eight—find the ball!"
Defensive Backs coach Donnie Henderson offers a constant stream of instruction to rookie CB Ronald Darby.
"No problem," Henderson yells to Darby. "Good job. But you've got to turn your head and find the ball."
Sideline observers at the Bills weekend rookie minicamp got a crash course in NFL cornerback technique if they listened to Henderson's dialogue with Buffalo's top draft pick. Darby listened also. After Henderson's shrill two-fingered whistle got his attention, Darby heard an instant tutorial on how to play the position, and most importantly, how to play the ball.
"I got to get his mind out of being a defender and make him turn into being a receiver," Coach Henderson said after one of the weekend rookie workouts. "That's one of the things that I noticed. That's one of his weaknesses, so to speak, playing the ball. It's not because it's a weakness, really, it's only a weakness because that's what he's been taught at the college level."
Draft analysts noted the same thing. With just two interceptions in his college career at Florida State, NFL Network Analyst Mike Mayock raised doubts about Darby's ball skills.
"He has struggled to find the football with his back to the quarterback," Mayock said. Steve Palozzolo, Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus.com raised similar concerns in an interview on The John Murphy Show.
"There were some issues with the ball skills," Palozzolo said, "where he just did not find the ball well enough. He found himself in good positon but just couldn't make a play on the ball."
That's what the Bills got to work on right away in the first three weekend rookie minicamp sessions. It's work that Darby embraces right out of the box.
"You want to perfect your craft," the young DB said. "That's something I'm going to continue to work on and I'm going to perfect it."
In his two-plus years with the Bills DBs, veteran coach Donnie Henderson can point to success stories with some young Buffalo players. He's helped Leodis McKelvin improve his play on the ball, along with Aaron Williams and Stephon Gilmore.
Henderson says he's bringing the same hands-on, immediate feedback style to his work with Buffalo's 2nd round draft pick.
"What I'm trying to is look at him and see what some of his technique issues are and try to correct them and make sure I put in his mind that he works on those things every day," Henderson says. "He's a very good student and willing to learn."
And as far as Darby is concerned, the on-field, in-practice stream of dialogue from Henderson is exactly what he needs to get better.
"He knows what he's talking about," says Darby. "He wants to coach. He's not the type of coach who will just sit back and let you do whatever you want to and then try to talk to you later. He wants to fix it right there on the spot."
With their depth at cornerback, the Bills may have the luxury of bringing Darby along slowly and not forcing him into the lineup. They're set outside at CB with McKelvin, Gilmore, and Corey Graham. And while some observers wonder if Darby could wind up playing inside as a slot corner, the Bills like their depth at that spot with Nickell Robey and Ron Brooks.
Henderson concentrated on using Darby outside during the weekend rookie minicamp, not in the slot. "I've only had him on the outside," Henderson answered, when asked if Darby could play inside as a nickel corner. "He's quick enough to play inside for sure, but I've only had him on the outside so far."