Courtney Roby may not have the role on the Saints that most guys dream of coming into the NFL, but it's a place that continues to be secure. He's been extremely valuable to the Saints as a gunner for four seasons and a decent kick returner too prior to Darren Sproles coming to the team a year ago and supplanting him. But Roby turns 30 in January and while the departure of Robert Meachem opened the door for someone to step into a new role with the Saints at receiver, the crop of young promising players in Nick Toon, Joseph Morgan and Adrian Arrington, among others, seemed first in line at the beginning of trainign camp. Roby's value to the team was admittedly diminished with the emergence of Sproles in the return game, but it's also fair to say he competes with corners and safeties as much as receivers (if not more) for a roster spot because his primary function is as a gunner on special teams. His designated position of "receiver" has largely been a label that traditionally has no accuracy. His value has always been on special teams and it's the reason he has continually makes the roster. So while I mentioned Toon, Morgan and Arrington above, those guys have never really been a threat to Roby's standing to the team as much as backup corners and safeties who have the ability to challenge him as a gunner. The thing is, Roby keeps getting better and better at his special teams duties. In this offseason, he's made it clear he can also play receiver, and perhaps he will see an increased role with the team. One thing is for sure: like a fine wine, Roby continues to get better with age.
In the past 4 seasons Roby has seen almost zero time at receiver. He has just one reception in four seasons as a Saint because there has almost always been not only 5 receivers ahead of him on the depth chart, but Sean Payton was also more likely to throw a running back or Jimmy Graham in the slot before he gave Roby some run with the offense. I always wondered to myself exactly why Roby hasn't gotten more of a chance to run routes as guys like Colston, Moore, Henderson and Meachem have all missed games at one time or another. Part of it may be a lack of trust/reps in the system, but I think the majority of it is that the Saints want him to focus on special teams. He's so good at being a gunner the Saints can't risk over using him at another position and increasing his risk for injury because special teams already carries a huge risk of injury on it's own. This training camp may force the Saints to get him more involved.
Since the departure of Robert Meachem that opened up an opportunity for someone, Courtney Roby has been by far the best receiver in training camp. The top three spots seem to be on lockdown for Colston, Henderson and Moore, but no one else on the roster has come even close to touching Roby for the 4th spot except maybe Andy Tanner. Nick Toon has been injured almost the entirety of camp, Adrian Arrington may not recover from knee surgery in time to play this year, and Joseph Morgan has been inconsistent. And while Tanner has been good in his own right, he's more of a slot possession receiver, which equates to a poor man's Lance Moore or Marques Colston. Roby offers something completely different - the ability to stretch the field, something the Saints need with the departure of Robert Meachem. Roby leads the team with 139 yards receiving in two preseason games so far, and sure that's worth something, but it's more what he's doing in practice, routinely beating starting corners and backups alike downfield. He's shown himself to be a dangerous deep threat with reliable hands, and you'll notice when the backup QB's are in the game (Daniel, Canfield, McCown) - they are ALWAYS looking Roby's way regardless of the route he runs. He's by far the player they all trust the most. It's hard to believe that Roby is having his best camp at 29, right when some of us might have been ready to say he's washed up.
In fact, it's just the opposite. Roby is better than ever, and while he continues to give the Saints elite gunner ability on special teams, he's now giving them the added bonus of ability on offense as well. I'd like to see him have a role in the offense this year based on what he's been able to do because that is one player who's ability we should never question based on what he's been able to do in the past. He's a professional, he knows the system, and no one is going to focus on their specific role and carry it out properly without trying to make more of it than Courtney Roby. There is almost no one on the roster you can trust more implicitly to recognize his place, accept it, and do whatever it takes to help the team win. As a special teams standout for years he's already assumed those qualities. And before you tell me this preseason doesn't mean anything, he's already caught more passes in two games than he has in any other full preseason with the Saints prior.
Courtney Roby may not be in the first 10 or 20 names you'd come up with when someone asked you to "name a superstar on the Saints", but the team is extremely lucky to have him, and this training camp is proving that his career in the NFL is very far from done.