The picks just keep on coming

If you had to name one player that's made the most progress this spring, cornerback Ramzee Robinson just might be your man. He's continued to play solid defense while also picking off passes--and right now he's a solid first string. <br><br>"It's starting to really get simple for me," Robinson acknowledged.

The redshirt sophomore isn't saying that SEC football is easy--far from it. But now in his third year on campus the defensive schemes are becoming second nature to Robinson.

"I'm just really trying to have some fun and enjoy myself," Ramzee Robinson told in a recent interview. "I had a nice off-season, and I've been working hard. I've been feeling pretty good."

Feeling good is an understatement. Robinson has been on a tear all spring, routinely being at the right place at the right time to intercept passes. In Bama's first scrimmage he turned in three tackles (one for a loss), intercepted a pass and blocked a field goal. And in the Tide's most recent workout at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Robinson's defensive larceny continued.

"I got two more Saturday," Robinson said of his tandem of interceptions. "It was just making my reads, reading the quarterback and the receiver and putting myself into position to make the plays."

One pick was a matter of anticipating what the quarterback was going to do and stepping in front of the intended receiver. But on the second Robinson ran step-for-step with his man down the sidelines, eventually outfighting the offensive player for the INT.

"I felt real good about the one on the sidelines," Robinson admitted. "It gave me a lot of confidence. Coach (Joe Kines) jumped on me and (Charlie Peprah) for over-celebrating. But I'm just glad I can make a play."

Secondary Coach Chris Ball has worked with Robinson for two years now, and he's watched the Huntsville native transform himself into a reliable cover man.

"It's very gratifying," Ball acknowledged. "Ramzee is almost a different player. He's playing with confidence. He's is doing what we're asking him to do. He's running our defense, then he's doing the extra things as well."

Pass breakups are one thing, but Robinson so far is going beyond to also rake in the turnovers.

However he declines to take credit. "The scheme that Coach Ball has put us in is giving me an opportunity to make good plays, and I'm starting to make good reads. I'm having a lot of fun."

Right now Robinson (#17) probably deserves the designation of "Most Improved" Tide defensive back.

When it comes to tipped passes or fumble recoveries, turnovers definitely have an element of luck involved. Sometimes it is (at least partly) a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Last season Charlie Peprah got more than his share of "lucky" bounces, but this spring they're going Robinson's way.

"I think it comes from shaking Charlie's hand so much that he gave me the virus now," Robinson commented with a laugh. "Now the ball is bouncing toward my glove. We all work hard every day. Some days I won't have a good day, but my teammates will.

"It's a turnover virus going around that Peprah started. Hopefully we'll all catch it."

Listed at 5-9, 181 pounds, Robinson isn't Bama's tallest cornerback. But he's proving that height isn't everything. How can a shorter player compete?

"No. 1, it takes a lot of confidence," Robinson replied. "A lot of people are going to doubt you, but so long as you have confidence in yourself and your ability, you can achieve any goal. And it also takes desire. You have to want to be a good player before you can be one. I've got a deep drive for the game. I love football."

An option quarterback in high school, Robinson passed for 1,338 yards as a senior and rushed for 466 more. He personally accounted for 13 touchdowns.

Robinson says he's still absorbing the nuances of playing cornerback, but his learning curve hasn't plateaued yet. "I haven't hit that level yet; I'm still rising," he explained. "I'm trying to work hard every day and having fun. I want to go all out and give 100 percent."

Robinson redshirted his first year at Alabama, concentrating on being a cornerback only. Last season he played in every game as a redshirt freshman, earning a start versus Hawaii. Robinson finished the year with 23 tackles and four pass breakups, forcing one fumble against South Florida.

Shown warming up before Saturday's scrimmage, Robinson has been working with the first unit at cornerback.

In 2003 Robinson played mainly as a reserve corner and nickel back. He had his tough times, getting beat more than once by opposing receivers. Robinson commented on the year. "I always went home thinking that I was just one step away from making a big play, or one step from making the tackle. I always thought I was a step behind. All I did was just continue watching the people ahead of me and continue to work hard."

But this spring it's almost as if a light bulb has gone off in his head.

"That comes from the defense becoming second-nature," Robinson said. "I've been making good reads lately. I pay attention to the wide receiver's body movement and the quarterback. That gives me an advantage in reading the play and being able to break on the ball and make the pick.

"I've taken a big step. Now it's all about making the play."

Coach Ball knows where the improvement came from. "He's a perfect example that hard work pays off," Ball said of his new starter. "Ramzee studies film and comes out here and works his tail off every day. He shows what it takes to play at this level and be successful."

With Charlie Peprah practicing at safety last week, Robinson has moved up to first string.

"It's real easy for me now," Robinson revealed. "It's not as hard as it was when I first set foot on campus and my first two-a-days. Now it's just second-nature. It's more about learning the game. I've been spending more time in the film room and out on the field, working extra.

"I was never worried about being athletic enough. I knew I had the talent, but I needed to learn the game."

He's stronger and certainly more mature now than when he first arrived on campus, but Robinson says that mentally is where he's made his real progress.

Coach Ball commented, "When Ramzee leaves the film session, he's thinking about football. He comes back and studies it on his own. Then he comes to practice and he does everything we ask the correct way 100 percent, and it's paying off. That's what it's about."

One way or another some true freshmen will probably factor into the playing rotation next fall, but for now Robinson is a solid first-string at cornerback.

"There's a little pressure," Robinson acknowledged, "but I really try to focus on knowing my responsibilities. I missed a couple of assignments Saturday. I'll go back and watch film and work on it. I want to please the coaches and let them know that I can do the job. That's all the pressure that I have."

For his part, Coach Ball just wishes that Robinson's teammates would all emulate his work ethic.

"There is no substitute," Ball said. "If I had magic dust to throw on them, I would. But the only way (to improve) is by hard work, and Ramzee is getting it done."

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