Last season, Josh Robinson was called on to replace Vikings veteran Antoine Winfield in slot coverage—and the results were less than impressive. This year, however, the story could not be more different. With a new coaching system under Mike Zimmer and the addition of new defensive players to the roster, Robinson is able to play primarily outside and is really finding his groove.
Offseason transactions brought in Captain Munnerlyn to play the slot, and Robinson looks much more natural playing on the outside. Additionally, he fits better in Zimmer’s defensive scheme that utilizes more man coverage and boundary corners.
“I believe [Coach] Zimmer is doing a great job with a lot of things, which are all helping us become better players,” Robinson said. “Teaching players techniques that work and stressing the importance of accountability and consistency are the biggest contributors to our success.”
“Zimmer came to Minnesota with a reputation for being able to get the most out of defensive backs, and Robinson is probably the team’s most improved player,” said Star Tribune‘s Matt Vensel. “He is a young player with speed and cover skills, and his play this year is a reminder of the dangers of writing off a player after he struggles early in his career.”
Robinson’s 2014 numbers are certainly impressive. At the end of October, the CB was allowing one completion for every 12.4 coverage snaps, compared to 6.9 last season. Robinson also continues to demonstrate improved play-making skills, already notching seven pass breakups and two interceptions.
The more significant of the two picks—if it is fair to say that—occurred on Sept. 7 against the Rams. St. Louis set up at its 19-yard line with 1:13 remaining in the first half, and the play proved pivotal in the game. Robinson executed his coverage of Rams tight end Jared Cook, and the CB was able to intercept the pass and keep his feet in bounds on the way down. The Vikings capitalized on the turnover with a touchdown to go up 13-0 at the half, and they continued on to win the game. Robinson referred to Game 3 as the “most consistent and confidently” played contest of his career, and it’s clear these qualities were not a single-game fluke. The 23-year-old attributes several things to his sudden upswing in performance.
“Being confident, being smarter, studying more—the list goes on,” Robinson said. “I’d say playing in this new system definitely allows me to use God-given abilities better.”
When asked how many more interceptions Vikings fans can expect this season, Robinson offered the perfect response:
“My goal is more than what I have now.”
Robinson went on to say that the highlight thus far and his main focus moving forward is getting better every week in his assignments. As important as turnovers can be in a game, Coach Zimmer said earlier this season that the assignments and coverage are just as important—if not more so—than the interceptions. In Robinson, Zimmer sees positive improvements across the board. The coach spoke highly of Robinson and right CB Xavier Rhodes in October:
“They are getting better with their techniques,” Zimmer said. “They’ve got a tough job when you’re out there one-on-one with good receivers […] it’s not an easy job because those guys are terrific athletes and we ask them to do an awful lot. So far they’ve been good at what they’ve been doing.”
General manager Rick Spielman also praised Robinson in a recent interview, saying the corner has shown “significant progress.”
Despite a season full of obstacles and off-field distractions, Robinson came out from Day 1 determined to maintain his focus on football and on getting better each week. Minnesota is entering this weekend on a bye, which will provide Robinson and his teammates with time to rejuvenate and prepare for consecutive division standoffs against Chicago and Green Bay.
Both games promise to be challenging. And Josh Robinson promises to bring his A-game.