The Koren Question

If the 49ers took a pass on David Boston, why would they possibly take a chance on Koren Robinson? That's a question organizational head honchos Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan are mulling over this weekend, and the answers that pair come up with will say a lot about McCloughan's influence – Robinson was McCloughan's very first draft choice while he was Seattle's director of college scouting – and Nolan's determination to stock the organization only with "49ers kind of guys."

Is Robinson a 49ers kind of guy? Not by what he has shown anybody so far during his first four NFL seasons with the Seahawks, who finally got fed up enough with Robinson's act to release him earlier this week.

Or, more specifically, not by what Robinson showed anybody during his fourth NFL season last year, when he was suspended two games by Seattle for breaking team rules and also served an additional four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

Robinson further shamed himself when he was arrested May 6 on suspicion of drunken driving, just six days after telling Seattle reporters he had quit drinking and just four months after entering a 30-day alcohol abuse program.

Records recently released show Robinson's blood-alcohol level in the May incident measured .191 percent in a pair of breath tests administered by police, well over the legal limit of .08. He faces a July 18 court date to answer to charges of DUI and reckless driving, both to which he has pleaded not guilty.

Of course, these issues could be deemed slightly irrelevant by a team as desperate as the 49ers are for a speedy, stretch-the-field receiver such as Robinson.

After the recent loss of Derrick Hamilton, likely for the entire 2005 season, the 49ers were deprived of the one receiver on their roster who had the combination of size and speed to provide a legitimate downfield dimension in their passing game. And even Hamilton, who hardly played at all as a rookie in 2004, still was raw and unproven as a guy who could consistently catch the ball once he got open.

The Niners have some potential with Arnaz Battle and Brandon Lloyd as their front-line receivers, but they severely need another legitimate threat to either complement that duo or move past them in the lineup.

Boston could have been that kind of player, and probably would have immediately become the best receiver on the roster had the team signed him when it was considering doing so this spring. But Boston has serious character issues, and also several brushes with the law and violations of NFL policies in his past.

Nolan met with Boston and seriously considered what he could bring to the team. But ultimately, despite Boston's positive association with new 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, Nolan declined to take on Boston and his heavy baggage, citing character issues and his desire to build the team with players who fit the mold of what the new coach wants his team to look like.

While Robinson might not carry quite the baggage of Boston, that seems to be only because he hasn't been around as long to develop as extensive a rap sheet.

Robinson was given multiple chances to get his act together in Seattle by coach Mike Holmgren, but common sense never seemed to kick in, following the pattern of Robinson's adult life. Robinson had scrapes with the law during his time at North Carolina State and, according to reports, he has been implicated in 21 – 21! – other cases for various infractions since 2003 – including driving 105 mph in a 60 mph zone and negligent driving.

Why would the 49ers even consider this guy? Well, there are at least two legitimate reasons.

The first is obvious. Robinson is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and possesses elite speed at the NFL level. His breakaway ability is just what the Niners need and are looking for in their passing attack, and his explosiveness and run-after-the-catch ability also are skills not possessed by any of San Francisco's current receivers.

Robinson has proven he can produce, stepping in as a rookie starter in 2001 and producing great numbers the next year in his sophomore NFL season of 2002. That season, he became Seattle's big-play receiver with 78 receptions for 1,240 yards, becoming just the second player in team history to record 1,200 receiving yards and suggesting bigger and better days were ahead.

Instead, Robinson has frittered away his potential. But perhaps McCloughan can save him in the eyes of Nolan.

McCloughan was around to see Robinson's crash-and-burn last year in Seattle, but also his promising development in preceding years. McCloughan always has been high on Robinson and his ability, and – judging by Robinson's early success in Seattle – seemed to guess right when he made Robinson the ninth overall selection in the 2001 draft. That was the first draft presided over by McCloughan in Seattle, and he didn't miss on many picks during his four years with the team in that role.

Both Nolan and McCloughan said this past week they are anxious to add another receiving talent to the mix after the dust settles following early June cuts. There certainly are other options out there besides Robinson, but as far as providing what the Niners need, he clearly is one of the best available.

What the Niners need on the field, that is. What they don't need is another headache off the field – they've had plenty of those lately – and that makes Nolan particularly wary.

"If he doesn't seem to have the track record of being our kind of guy right now, I want to make sure that we're not vulnerable to something by bringing that guy onboard," Nolan said.

Surely, despite his problems, Robinson will find a job with somebody in the NFL. Will it be – or should it be – with the 49ers? They're currently in the process of trying to figure that out themselves and – as their verdict with Boston indicates – it won't be an easy decision.


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