Josh Robinson never felt comfortable being asked to cover slot receivers as the Minnesota Vikings' nickel cornerback last year. He knew it and his coaches knew it, but during the offseason and the first half of the season they continued to try to get Robinson ready for that role.
Without Antoine Winfield, who excelled in that job for years prior to being cut in March 2013, the coaching staff turned to Robinson. They talked all offseason, and even into the season, what an adjustment that was for him.
This year, the Vikings signed Captain Munnerlyn, who in some ways is a bit of a Winfield clone, and the requests have all changed for Robinson. At veteran minicamp before the draft, there were no more slot duties for Robinson.
"That's a dream come true," Robinson said with a smile on his face.
"It was a lot. Like I had stated back last year, I told people I hadn't played that position ever in my life. It was a big change, something I wasn't used to playing in the box. It was a lot of changes that I had to learn, especially at this level, and it becomes difficult. I am thankful that I'm back outside and able to play out there where I'm comfortable."
In that three-day minicamp that new head coach Mike Zimmer and his staff used to gauge their veteran talent before the draft, Robinson was playing left cornerback in the base defense with Xavier Rhodes at right cornerback. Better yet, in Robinson's estimation, was that he remained at left cornerback in the nickel defense, when Munnerlyn came on the field to take on the slot receiver.
Robinson said it's an opportunity to prove himself, but there is also the need to improve.
"I think the biggest thing I'm trying to work on is really just my press technique, having a smooth technique where I'm not getting beat. Nobody can run by me, so I should be always on top. That's one of the things they've been stressing that I look forward to getting better at," he said.
Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray were impressive in coaching the details of the defensive back position, from toe placement to where the vision on the receiver should be. It's a whole new world in the defensive backfield, as new coaches and schemes bring new techniques and points of emphasis.
"It's a lot different. I think all the differences are really good. So far, everything looks good, everybody is working hard and they're teaching us some good things," Robinson said.
"You've got to learn to adjust and be able to adapt your game and improve it. I think all the adjustments that they've made thus far are improving our ability to play the defensive back position."
Last year, Robinson started the first 10 games of the season and was just starting to find the stability at left cornerback he was seeking when a fractured sternum on Nov. 17 eventually ended his season prematurely, despite some hope that he could return in December.
He finished the season with 52 tackles, including five for a loss, seven passes defensed and a forced fumble.
Although cornerback may be one of the harder positions to grade, with guesses sometimes required on which player is responsible for a receiver, especially in zone coverage, Robinson was ranked 99th among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus last year. He received negative grades in three of the first four weeks of the season, but improved to relatively neutral grades in the last six weeks before his injury.
In his rookie season, Robinson ranked 108th, but he believes the new techniques being taught now and stricter attention to detail should help.
"It's the little things that separate you at this level, so I think every little detail that they're trying to correct will definitely help us," he said.
"I think the techniques are a little bit different and that's something that we're still going to work on, still going to improve on, but I think that's the biggest thing right now."
He believes the defensive backs will be ready by training camp, and he's hoping for some stability at left cornerback instead matching up against the slot receiver will help his transition.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
New duties ‘dream come true' for Robinson
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