Marcus Robinson has been down this road before, the one where a young receiver drops a few balls and the focus on that shortcoming starts to intensify. Only this time it isn't just Robinson under the microscope, it's teammate Troy Williamson.
Williamson caught two passes for 27 yards Sunday against Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium, but he also dropped two passes, including a deep pass that went through his arms.
"For the most part, you've got to just trust (yourself)," Robinson said of overcoming dropped passes. "I used to be the same way my rookie year. Even if you drop 10 in the off-season, you just work on your hands. Randy Moss, when I got here, he helped me a lot because that's all we did. Every drill we did was catching the football."
Keep in mind that when Robinson came to Minnesota and received on-field tutoring from one the most talented receivers the game has ever seen he was already a six-year veteran who had 1,400 receiving yards with the Chicago Bears in 1999. He had success with the Bears, especially in 1999 and 2000 when he combined for 2,138 receiving yards, then moved on to the Baltimore Ravens and before joining his third team, the Vikings, in 2004.
And still Robinson felt the value of continuing to work on catching the ball.
Williamson didn't have a full off-season to work on his craft, as his summer activities were limited due to surgery to have an abscess removed from his left hip. The off-season, however, is the time to work on catching the ball, Robinson says. In-season is too busy to really concentrate on that skill.
"Learning to catch the ball and gaining confidence in that is more something that you learn in the off-season, where you focus on just catching. Once you get into the game, you're reacting. You're going to go back to whatever is most comfortable, whether that's catching with the body, because that's how you're used to doing it. The bottom line is to make the play."
Williamson is a second-year receiver who didn't get many opportunities to be the go-to guy in college, yet the Vikings still took a chance on the speedster with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Williamson wasn't expected to be the team's No. 1 receiver until the team parted ways with Koren Robinson in August, putting Williamson under the bright spotlight and automatically shifting the "No. 1 receiver" tag his way.
In the first regular-season game this year, Williamson had some dropped passes as well, but quarterback Brad Johnson continued to look to the South Carolina speedster and Williamson came through with clutch plays. He caught two passes for a combined 58 yards on the Vikings' opening touchdown drive, dropped a few, then came back to make an important 13-yard play on third-and-9 on the team's game-winning field goal drive in the final minutes of the road game.
Fast forward to Sunday in Buffalo, three weeks later. Williamson dropped two passes, including a long one that sailed over his shoulder and through his arms.
Robinson said a lot of players like to have the ball fall over their shoulder on deep routes and catch it in stride, like Williamson tried, but Robinson said he prefers to turn his body and head to see the ball and extend his hands back to make the catch.
When Williamson didn't make that catch for a struggling offense, the spotlight grew brighter the following day when a local newspaper ran a large photo of the ball going through his arms on the front cover of its Vikings coverage with the headline, "SEEN THIS ACT BEFORE."
Williamson may or may not have seen it, and he might even be able to use that as motivation, but Robinson said the reaction of players to criticism all depends on the individual.
"You've got different individuals and you need to push them different ways. With Troy, he just needs to keep confidence in himself. That's what it's all about," Robinson said. "You can't start thinking, ‘Oh my God' because what people will start to do, newspapers will start printing that he's dropping balls and he'll feel like he dropped balls. You've got to relax."
With a reserved personality, that might be the case with Williamson, but it will be up to his coaches and teammates to ultimately handle him the right way.
"You've got to make sure you don't come at a guy the wrong way and make him feel secluded. He's already reserved and he's not a real talkative guy. If he's not voicing it and you say something to him, he's kind of taking it all in, you may push him in the wrong direction," Robinson said. "Young guys especially, it's confidence. That's the biggest thing. You just keep giving them confidence. You tell them jump ball and keep moving. You praise them. You can easily push a guy in the wrong direction instead of a positive direction."
Williamson walked through the locker room Monday when Viking Update was talking with Robinson, but Williamson wasn't available after that. He did, however, talk about his struggles two days after the Redskins game and said he is better equipped to handle adversity this year.
"There are a lot of plays to be made out there on the field, so just go ahead and make the next one," he said about dropping a pass now and again. "If it would have happened last year, I would be still down on myself right now. Now I'll just keep on going, keep on moving because there are a lot of plays to be made."
Robinson wasn't without blame either. He wasn't able to secure a diving catch on a deep pass on third-and-3 on the team's final drive Sunday in Buffalo.
"I touched it and I should have caught the ball. The wind, when I was running, all the sudden it just took a rise. Brad (Johnson) said, ‘I didn't think I threw it that far.' You could totally see that it was coming down and the wind just picked it up. I couldn't adjust to pull it in, but that's a catch that you have to make," Robinson said.
He said there were several other throws throughout the game where the wind affected things, but Robinson still had five catches for 78 yards one week after being deactivated.
"I think it was all Brad making his reads rather than them saying, ‘Get Marcus the ball,'" he said of his output.
Another factor was that the Vikings fell behind and ended up attempting 44 passes.
"I think we got ourselves into a situation where we had to throw the ball, with penalties and then we weren't getting things on first and second down the way we wanted," Robinson said. "To get big chunks of yards, you have to throw the ball. You can't always run it. As an offense, we were putting ourselves in situations where we had to throw."
"The game got lopsided pretty quick."
Punter Chris Kluwe said the wind had a big affect on his 9-yard punt Sunday.
"It felt like my drop and my motion felt good. It just felt like that instant of time when I saw it leave my hand, the nose just went, boom, straight down. Sometimes you can decide to do everything right and the elements come into factor. All you can do is adjust to it, and unfortunately I wasn't able to adjust to it," Kluwe said.
"I've kicked in wind before and you just have to hold onto the ball longer and not give the wind time to affect it. Kicking against the wind like that is really hard because it was completely straight on. It was at a crosswind, which tends to make your drop even more inconsistent."
Kluwe said that was the second-strongest wind he's ever punted in, the first being the Vegas Bowl in his senior year. "If you don't hit a tight spiral in that stuff, the ball just falls apart immediately," he said.
Robinson: Stick with Williamson
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