Slotted in a new role, Vikings' Robinson learns on the fly

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 30, 2013 - 1:07 AM

The second-year cornerback is trying to fill Antoine Winfield’s shoes.

 

The last five players to leave the Winter Park practice field during Wednesday’s organized team activities were four eager rookies and a second-year player who’s trying to make people forget just how well Antoine Winfield played slot cornerback in the Vikings’ nickel defense the past nine seasons.

“Those are some big shoes to fill,” cornerback Josh Robinson said after putting in a little more post-practice overtime. “That’s for darn sure.”

Robinson has a long way to go. How long? Well, this long:

Reporter: “What was your comfort level in the slot last year?”

Robinson: “Not very high since I didn’t really learn nickel last year. This is all new to me.”

Or this long:

Reporter: “Is it harder to play in the slot than on the outside?”

Robinson: “I wouldn’t know. I really don’t have any game-time experience with it. I think it’s something I’ll learn eventually. We’ll see.”

Or, finally, this long:

Reporter: “Did you at least play some slot corner at Central Florida?”

Robinson: “Never.”

OK, then.

When the Vikings decided not to pay Winfield $7.5 million this season, they gambled that he might re-sign at a reduced salary. They lost. The 15-year veteran signed with Seattle, and Robinson became the Vikings’ hurried-up Plan B for slot cornerback, a year earlier than anyone had expected.

Robinson was a third-round draft pick in 2012. He also has 22-year-old legs that make him one of the fastest players in the league. But when it comes to experience and savvy, well, let’s just say Robinson was in second grade when Winfield joined the NFL in 1999.

“You know, I didn’t really study Antoine in the slot last year,” Robinson said. “But now that I’m in the nickel, I’m watching a lot of tape of him. He’s a great player who made a lot of great plays.”

Today’s pass-crazed NFL offenses — particularly those in the NFC North — force the Vikings to use their nickel package about 50 percent of the time. And playing the slot cornerback position “requires a different mind-set” than playing on the outside, said Vikings coach and former Bears cornerback Leslie Frazier.

“In the slot, you don’t have that sideline to kind of help you,” Frazier said. “And you’re actually asked to do a little bit more from a mental standpoint, as well. When you play the slot position, we might have you involved in our run defense. … The responsibility changes. It requires a little bit more awareness. You have to be a better tackler and you have to have the cover skills.”

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