Dunta Robinson is smart enough to know that there’s a sliding scale for professional athletes. When salary shoots up, expectations rise with it. Win, and bask in the spotlight. Lose, and burn in it.
Give Robinson credit for this. He’s not running from criticism, or the burn. The Athens native came back home last season and signed a $57 million free agent contract with the Falcons with the hope and expectation of giving them some help at cornerback. Help, he did – just not as much as fans would’ve like, media would’ve liked and most importantly he would’ve liked.
The Falcons’ pass defense was better in 2010, but well short of brilliant (22nd overall). In the playoff loss to Green Bay, defensive backs seemed like milk bottles being knocked over by Aaron Rodgers in a carnival game. It obviously wasn’t all Robinson’s fault: There were another 10 Falcons on the field (most of them looking like scattering fire ants). But he could’ve been better in the game and in the season. It’s what impact players are supposed to do. The contract creates that expectation level.
When asked Friday to grade himself on a scale of 1 to 10 last season, Robinson didn’t hesitate to flog himself.
“About a 5,” he said.
He remembers getting burned for a touchdown early against the Packers, saying, “My eyes got distracted for a second, and the ball got outside of me. You tell yourself later, ‘If I make a play there, maybe the game’s not the same.’
“When a quarterback has a game like that, it’s tough on everybody. But as a cornerback, the only way you can make an impact in a game is to make a huge play. I didn’t make that play.”
We should add some perspective here. Robinson really wasn’t that bad. Opposing quarterbacks targeted him on 90 pass plays last season, which ranked 24th among NFL cornerbacks. So there’s a respect factor there. By comparison, Brent Grimes was targeted 124 times, which ranked first in the league. Robinson was burned for 53 catches (58.9 percent) and three touchdowns. He had seven pass breakups and one interception.
Again, the numbers are not dreadful. They just don’t scream “game-changer.” Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said early in the week that the Falcons’ “pass defense has got to get better. It’s still a concern for us.”
But when asked specifically about Robinson’s play last season, VanGorder said, “He had a good year. He didn’t get as much action as [Grimes] but he settled down that position.”
He expects to be better. For starters, the addition of Ray Edwards should improve the Falcons’ pass rush, which obviously takes pressure off the secondary. (The Falcons ranked only 20th in sacks last season.) Secondly, his head won’t be spinning as much in year two. There was an adjustment period last season, switching from the predominantly man-to-man schemes in Houston to the Falcons’ mostly zone alignments.
Robinson admits there also was pressure that came with returning to play for his home team — and, yes, the contract.
“I feel a lot better this year,” he said. “I got very comfortable in Houston. I was there for six years. I came here. New faces, new city. I had to prove myself all over again. It felt a lot different. Last year I was learning to trust these guys and they were learning to trust me. Now I’m like, ‘Let’s play football.’ I just feel more relaxed.”
He doesn’t have a problem with taking blame for the team’s defensive problems — even when he may not deserve it.
That’s refreshing. It’s not a common occurrence in team athletics.
“If you’re going to be in this position, you have to take the good with the bad,” Robinson said. “When things don’t go well, I want them to call my name. I want people to say, ‘What’s he doing to change it?’ because that’s the kind of player I consider myself – an impact player.”
He also knows that if he answers “5″ on the scale again after this season, something will have gone wrong.
By Jeff Schultz