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John DeShazier: Saints special-teams ace Courtney Roby knows his role

Wide receiver says 'I just try to go out and I work'


There's no identity crisis for Courtney Roby. He knows exactly who he is, and the New Orleans Saints have absolutely no qualms with that.

True, Roby, who's entering his ninth NFL season, lists as a wide receiver, works with that unit during team and individual drills, hones his craft just as any proud and determined player would. Year in and out, it has been noted that he has improved as a receiver and could contribute if called upon.

But, too, there's pride in having earned the title of a dependable special teams player, one whose talents have been good enough for Roby continually to have earned a spot on the 53-man roster.

Entering training camp, Roby has played four full seasons in New Orleans, and only has two receptions for 15 yards. He made an impact as a kickoff returner his first two seasons (1,154 yards and a touchdown on 42 kickoff returns in 2009, and another 785 yards on 33 returns in '10), but yielded that role to Darren Sproles when the free agent dynamo joined the Saints in 2011.

Where Roby, who finished his career at Indiana as the school's all-time receiving leader with 170 catches for 2,524 yards, has earned his skins as a Saint is in the less-glorious role of gunner on punt coverage, contain player on kickoff coverage, gunner blocker on punt returns and backup kick returner if needed. Especially, he has been the team's most effective coverage artist, posting 20 special teams tackles in 2009, 13 in 2010 and '11 and 10 last season, when he missed three games due to injury.

"One thing about me, I just try to go out and I work," Roby said. "I try to do what I'm coached to do, day in and day out. I take pride in that. I've been asked since I've been here to take on a role as special teams, the leader of that.

"It's something I take great pride in. We have an excellent group of guys and everybody comes out and works hard. We have that identity as a core. So when you have a group of guys that do that, it's easy to go out and battle for each other."

Roby, in fact, was special teams captain last season, the second consecutive year that teammates bestowed the honor upon him via vote. But then, he has been nothing if not selfless as a Saint.

There have been shining moments – a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in '09 and a Super Bowl (four kickoff returns for 102 yards, a special teams tackle and a downed punt at the Colts' 4-yard line among them) to remember. He also has recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown (last season) and has the team record for longest postseason kickoff return (61 yards, against Minnesota in the 2009 NFC championship game).

Mostly, though, his career in New Orleans has been about producing special teams tackles and about helping establish field position in New Orleans' favor, either through solid coverage or good blocking.

"There's no question he's done a good job while he's been in this league as a special teams player," said Saints special teams coordinator Greg McMahon. "He knows that he's got to be proficient at wide receiver as well, but he's certainly been a good, productive player for us. He's working his behind off in camp and he's a guy that has shown leadership as well."

The leadership is of the quiet brand. Roby, admittedly, isn't the most vocal player in the room.
But the respect that has been earned is obvious; twice, he has been named captain of his unit because of his production and toughness. Roby has missed seven regular-season games, out of 64 possible, the last four seasons. All misses have been due to injury.

"He's got to have the mentality, that's for darn sure," McMahon said. "A lot of these guys come in from college and they haven't really done much special teams so we've got to train them, make sure we've got them in positions to where they can get the job done for our team and also be successful for themselves. It's a mentality and a skill that you have to develop."

Roby has it. And he knows exactly how that has contributed to his tenure with the Saints.

"I'm not always the most vocal person," he said. "I believe that there is a time and a place for that. But one thing that I pride myself in is, whenever you look at me you can say, 'Courtney is working hard.' Whether that be a young guy or a coach, I just try to go out there and take that blue-collar approach and work hard."

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