Opportunities Knock For Robinson

Marcus Robinson flashes a big smile when talking about the weapons his new offense in Minnesota possesses. It's the offensive personnel and winning opportunity the Vikings present that has Robinson looking for a return to big numbers and winning ways in 2004.

Minnesota has a defense on the rise, but it also has an offense that was ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year. New Vikings receiver Marcus Robinson, who signed a four-year, $9.4 million deal in March, can't relate — and he can't wait either.

Robinson's career has been one of great promise derailed mostly by injuries and teams with little to offer a talented wide receiver on offense.

He entered the league as a fourth-round draft pick in 1997 and spent that year on injured reserve with a thumb injury. After being the NFL Europe MVP in 1998, his career started to take off — ironically it was against Minnesota on Oct. 10, 1999, when he had eight receptions for 90 yards. He followed with four 100-yard games in the next five weeks on his way to a Chicago Bears record 1,400-yard season in his first year as a starter. He did it all with a quarterback rotation of Jim Miller, Cade McNown and Shane Matthews.

When the rest of the Bears finally caught up to his production in 2001, he blew out his knee in the fifth game and watched the rest of Chicago's magical 13-3 season from the sidelines. In his first year back from the torn ACL and LCL ligaments in 2002, he played in all 16 games but started only two before signing a free-agent contract with another team known for defense, the Baltimore Ravens.

Last year was Robinson's first chance to actively participate in the playoffs.

"Last year was my first time ever being in a playoff atmosphere, being in a playoff game. In Chicago I was never a part of a winning season (when the Bears were 13-3 in 2001, Robinson hurt his knee). Last year when (the Ravens) were 10-6, to be out there playing, man, the atmosphere and that feeling, it was great. I know it would be better to win a Super Bowl."

That's his goal with the Vikings this year. It's an offensive system he is pretty familiar with after spending 2003 with former Minnesota offensive coordinator Brian Billick.

"It's the same system basically. Baltimore will concentrate more on the run — they've got Jamal Lewis," he told VU after Tuesday's developmental camp practice. "Billick was here from the 1998 season, so it's the same system. But here they throw the ball down the field more with Randy Moss."

In Chicago ‘s peak during the 2001 season, defense got it done for the Bears. The same has been true with Baltimore's success. But in Minnesota, offense hasn't been a problem, and Robinson knows it's because of the personnel.

"I thought I'd always stay in Chicago, but in this business things change. But in this offense, you've got Randy Moss on one side, Daunte (Culpepper) and (Michael) Bennett in the backfield, so I think it's a good fit for me."

He's pretty sure his greatest opportunity will come at the beginning of the year, a time he says he needs to prove himself while teams concentrate on doubling Moss on the other side of the field.

"As a defensive coordinator, once we starting making plays from the outside, you're going to have to look at what are we going to do to both of these guys (Robinson and Moss). Normally you've a streak guy (on the outside) and a guy in the slot, you're going to double on the outside and double on the inside," he said. "But when you've got two guys flashing on the outside, you can't double both unless you play cover-two, and that means we run the ball with Mike Bennett. Guys are going to have to figure out once the season starts and I start making plays — because people are still going to double Randy Moss — that's definitely going to give me the opportunity to make one-on-one plays. Once I start making plays on the outside, I think everything will just open up."

"They're not going to leave Moss by himself, they're just not going to."

The loaded offense is one of the reasons Robinson decided to come to Minnesota after talking with Detroit, the New York Jets, Jacksonville, Baltimore and San Francisco as a free agent in March.

Robinson said Baltimore told him they'd want him back, but after three weeks of not talking with the team it had a deal in place for Terrell Owens. "They told me there was no way they were going to get Terrell Owens because they've got Jamal Lewis — why should they get Terrell Owens, they run the ball well? … The next thing I find out, they're getting Terrell Owens."

Robinson talked to Mike Tice and got a deal done quickly with a team he considers on the rise.

"These guys (Culpepper and Moss) have a name," Robinson said. He already likes that little smirk Culpepper gives him when he sees one-on-one coverage with Robinson. "It's an honor to be on the same team and same football field with them, knowing how these guys play. … These guys are very enthusiastic, they're ready for the season to start and they want to win a Super Bowl. That's all that matters."

Robinson's NFL experience and track speed could help the Vikings accomplish that ultimate goal, but he will have to stay healthy to avoid having people place him in the same category Vikings fans place Derrick Alexander — an injury-prone player whose best days are behind him. (Robinson also seems to have more passion than Alexander had in his short time in Minnesota.)

"People want to label you injury prone, but what people fail to understand is that this is a contact sport. I didn't have injuries where I was running and pulled a hamstring. I tore my knee up because of contact," he said. "People want to sit on the outside and judge, but there are a lot of Hall of Famers that tore up their knees and can still play. Look at Jerry Rice. I don't too much worry about that, but I know the injuries hindered me from doing what I do. Last year, everybody started saying, ‘What happened to you the first part of the season.' If you look, I was only getting one pass a game, but I was catching that one ball. The first 12 games, I had one catch every game. That shows you how much they were throwing the ball, and once we started throwing the ball I was making plays. So definitely I know it's still there."

In 1999, Robinson put up 1,400 yards and followed that with a 738-yard season in 2000. In the three seasons since, he has 269, 244 and 451 yards receiving, respectively. The ambitions are much greater since joining the league's No. 1 offense from last year, but the numbers aren't what drive Robinson this year.

"I don't set numbers (for goals)," he said. "My goal for this year is just to get to the Super Bowl and be a piece of the puzzle. "

* Robinson looked good in Tuesday's practice, catching the jump ball often.

* One of the cornerbacks Robinson outjumped on one occasion was Antoine Winfield, who definitely is more physical than Denard Walker but is also one of the shorter defensive backs on the roster.

* Randy Moss practiced sparingly while recovering from plantar fasciitis, but he still outjumped a cornerback on a sideline route and made it look easy.

* Speaking of looking easy, that's what veteran punter Darren Bennett has been doing so far. His kicks look effortless, but he has been extremely consistent. After one booming kick, head coach Mike Tice smiled and mouthed, "That (expletive) can kick." But the best line after that kick came from quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who screamed, "Nice kick, coach." It was a jab at the 40-year-old punter's age.

* Quarterback Gus Frerotte was another veteran that looked very smooth Tuesday.

* Nate Burleson, Chuck Wiley and Corey Chavous were all back at practice Tuesday after being excused on Monday for personal reasons.

* Rookies cannot participate in this early camp, but they will be in attendance at the official minicamp Friday through Sunday.

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