Sophomore defensive back Ronald Darby has been silent all season. So have most of the receivers he's been across from.
Darby declined to speak publicly for much of the season, saying he wanted to wait until he was fully healthy after suffering a groin injury in the spring that required surgery. Darby still isn't all the way back, but did finally speak to reporters just before FSU's holiday break.
"I'm still not 100 yet," Darby said. "I'm still trying to get back. Groin's not something you really play with. But I got a lot better from the offseason until now. I run a lot better, cut a lot better, just doing good."
Darby's season-long silence mirrored his play as Darby has quietly turned in one of the best seasons by a defensive back in the country. Last year's ACC defensive rookie of the year hasn't had sexy numbers - just 12 tackles, two picks and three passes broken up all year. But his lack of stats doesn't reflect poor play. Instead, teams simply don't throw to his side of the field. His teammates haven't been shy about talking about his play, stats or no.
"He's been locking it down," Senior safety Terrence Brooks said. "That's all he can do. I don't see where they're going to throw it. We take pride in shutting teams down in the passing game. I wouldn't really want to go against us to tell you the truth. Darby's a great player and he's evolved into so much more I'm happy to see where he is now and I feel like everybody out there is hungry and competing."
Even Florida State's Heisman-winning QB was quick to praise FSU's defensive backs.
"[ P.J. Williams ]and Darby, I've got to face those guys every day at practice," Jameis Winston said. "Darby's not even playing 100 percent. Darby was arguably the fastest player on our team before his surgery. And he doesn't even have that right now. I honestly think Darby could be the best cornerback in the country if he had his speed."
Shortly before Christmas, Darby finally broke his season-long silence. He said he's enjoyed the transition this season to playing more bump-and-run coverage.
"The year was great for all the DBs," Darby said. "We got the system down real fast, and it was kind of different for me at first because last year, with Stoops, I was mainly off. I did a lot of off man. With [Pruitt] we're mainly at the line. But overall, it went great."
Darby added that while it does sometimes get boring when teams have decided not to test his side of the field, he still takes pride in holding his receiver to fewer than 100 or 50 yards each game.
""I take a lot of pride in it," Darby said. "That's why I just - that's why we practice hard really, so we can be perfect on game day."
Darby, only a sophomore, leads up a defensive backfield that's arguably the best in the country - and Darby and Williams are both sophomores, along with freshman safety Jalen Ramsey. Darby wil have at least one more season with most of the same cast - and a season when he's finally back to full strength. The youth movement hasn't been lost on Brooks, who is eager to see what happens next.
"That's why I feel like this secondary is going to be so good for years to come," Brooks said. "All those guys are young. They're probably going to be better than we are to tell you the truth. I want to keep watching to see how good they get. Darby is going to be amazing."
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