Saints defensive back Patrick Robinson, left, runs through drills against wide receiver Courtney Roby during training camp. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, August 16, 2012 11:54 PM
METAIRIE (AP) — Patrick Robinson remembers feeling a sense of loss on a day when he could have been pumped up about his arrival as a projected starter in the NFL.
Tracy Porter, a starting cornerback with the Saints the past four seasons, had just signed a free-agent deal with Denver.
That move left Robinson, a 2010 first-round draft choice out of Florida State, as the heir apparent to Porter's old job.
"I was kind of sad because when I first got here, (Porter) was definitely one of the guys who helped me a lot," Robinson said. "I knew eventually I was going to get my chance to start, but I didn't know it was going to be when it happened. That's what it is now. I'm a starter and I've got to make the plays."
He has started to do that in practice. He intercepted Drew Brees' pass intended for Marques Colston deep down the left sideline this week.
New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was impressed, particularly because Robinson made the play in his first practice back from a sprained left shoulder that had forced him to miss more than a week of practice, as well as two preseason games.
"He stayed stride for stride. He was in phase with the receiver which tells you he's got skill enough to run with him," Spagnuolo said. "If you can get that kind of play out of your corner, it helps you call defenses pretty good because you can do some things you wouldn't typically be able to do."
Robinson is slated to start on Friday night when the Saints (No. 9 in the AP Pro32) host Jacksonville (No. 31) in a game that will also mark Robinson's first action of the preseason.
"I'm anxious to see that," Spagnuolo said. "He had a good week of practice, made a couple of plays. I know the defense is real comfortable when he's in there communicating-wise on the back end. So we'll see where he is."
Robinson's emergence began last season, when he started seven games because of injuries to Porter. In other games, he was the nickel back, and wound up leading the club with four interceptions.
His performance in 2011 represented a drastic improvement over 2010, when he took a lot of criticism for getting caught out of position and had some impatient fans wondering if he was a first-round bust.
"In his first year in the league he was very, very lost. I think the speed of the game was a lot," Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "From his first year to his second year he learned football and he learned the defense, so now his instincts are paired up with his knowledge of the game. Now he's taking calculated risks and he's really making a lot of plays. He plays the ball well. He's going to be a good corner for us."
Robinson agreed his rookie season was a struggle.
"My first year was a huge learning curve because when I was in college it was pretty basic," he said. "When I got here, there were a lot of things that I had never done in college, and then the game is a lot faster."
Spagnuolo sees the 5-foot-11, 191-pound Robinson as a prototypical "long-armed press corner," meaning he is not only fast but has the build to knock receivers off their routes when contact is permitted within 5 yards from scrimmage.
Last year, the Saints played a lot of man-to-man coverage because of all the blitzing they did under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Now they are playing mostly a press zone.
Robinson said that while the old defense tested his physical skills more, the new defense tests his mental acumen.
"So this year, it's easier for me to make plays — as long as I'm in the right place," Robinson said.
As Robinson has adjusted to the NFL, he has made some other changes in his life. Last year, he cut off the dreadlocks he'd had since eighth grade. And this season has decided to go with a close, clean cut, which he joked was more comfortable in New Orleans' heat and humidity.
He also has worked on his speech, trying to overcome a stammer that he has struggled with much of his life. Now in one-on-one interviews, he speaks slowly, smoothly and softly, but says he still finds himself unable to get words out at times.
"It's very tough because there are a lot of things you want to say, but you can't say it at the time because you get stuck," he said. "I just try to fight through it."
Fortunately, he has always been able to communicate instinctively on the field.
"The crazy thing is it's never a problem on the field," Robinson said. "That's very mind-boggling for me."
He may find the answer to that one day. For now, though, he's happy to have figured out pro football to the point where expectations for him are high entering his third season.
"A lot of guys in this league that have a lot of ability but never quite play up to their ability, or don't do it consistently," Robinson said. "So definitely, my main two goals are to be very consistent and play at a high level all of the time."
Notes: Drew Brees announced on his Twitter page that his third son, Callen Christian Brees, was born Wednesday evening. Brees did not miss a single practice this week and is expected to play against the Jaguars. ... CB Marquis Johnson returned to practice after sitting out on Wednesday with a sore left knee. ... Reserve linebacker Aaron Tevis also returned from a knee injury.