Josh Robinson feeling comfortable inside, still starter outside
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Josh Robinson has played cornerback through four college and NFL seasons, excelling at Central Florida on the outside before the Minnesota Vikings made him a third-round draft pick last season.
Through all of that time, Robinson never found himself as an inside defender with responsibilities covering slot receivers. Robinson was always on the outside covering receivers, far away from the mass of large bodies and rough going inside. Robinson could use his 4.33-second, 40-yard dash speed to handle receivers and his 5-foot-10, 199-pound frame didn't have to take a beating.
For the first time in his football career, the Vikings are asking Robinson to go inside when the team goes to its nickel defense. Robinson's play inside -- where Minnesota always knew it could count on veteran Antoine Winfield -- is important to the team's success.
"It's a big difference," Robinson said of playing inside. "It was something new for me. But having all of training camp and all of this preseason just to work at it and just to get better at it, it's helped me come along and be ready for the season."
Robinson is still lining up as the starter in the base defense, but when rookie Xavier Rhodes enters as the third cornerback in the nickel defense, Robinson slides inside. Against the pass-happy teams in the NFC North and the NFL, in general, the Vikings often play more of their nickel than base defense.
It was no different last year when Minnesota, again, dealt with injuries to its group of cornerbacks. Robinson started six games last year while Chris Cook was out with a broken bone in his forearm. When more injuries became a factor, the Vikings ended up using punt returner and seldom-used cornerback Marcus Sherels on defense at times instead of Robinson, in large part because Robinson didn't have experience covering the slot.
Quite a difference a year, and a lot of practice time, makes.
"Much more comfortable, and really much more comfortable than I previously thought because he had never been inside before," Williams said of how Robinson is handling the inside. "To his credit, he's really working at it. He's coming along faster than I think that he even thought he would because he hadn't been inside. I think he's embracing it and liking the position in terms of what we allow him to do and the plays that he can make. I feel good about Josh being inside."
As soon as Winfield signed with Seattle in the offseason and Minnesota lost its veteran member of the secondary, the links between Robinson and Winfield's old slot position began. Of course, the correlation between the two's stature also followed.
Winfield was never big -- at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, he's even smaller than Robinson -- but he was one of the league's top slot corners because of his toughness and tackling ability. For Robinson, that was the biggest difference to moving inside.
"Got to play the run," Robinson said. "You're a part of the run game."
Coach Leslie Frazier has also witnessed another big difference for Robinson.
"I think just seeing him calm down a little bit," Frazier said. "Sometimes he can get so hyper about what he's trying to get done, he can overthink things. He's begun to relax a little bit and part of that is we're putting him in a lot of different situations in practice and trying to get him in situations in games so it's not the first time he sees certain things when we line up against Detroit (in the regular-season opener). So I think just the fact that he's slowed down mentally and begun to relax a little bit as a player, that's probably where the growth has come the most."
Robinson said he is tough on himself. He says his progress has been slow but sure, more a process of improving daily. With each repetition and mistake, he learns.
"I actually don't think it's coming quick," Robinson said. "I'm hard on myself. I think I should be picking up on some things faster than I do. A lot of mistakes have been made. You're just learning from them and trying to improve."
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