Between knee surgery and the acquisition of heralded free agent Keenan Lewis, Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson did not have a fun offseason.
Sunday’s exhibition game at Houston might have been the start of a turnaround.
While Lewis struggled repeatedly in coverage of All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, Robinson looked sharp in his preseason debut after beginning training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
When the Texans tested him early, he ran stride for stride with wide receiver Keshawn Martin and was in perfect position to break up a long third-down pass down the sideline.
“I was playing my technique the right way on that one,” he said. “It showed.”
Technique is the terminology of choice for Robinson, a 2010 first-round draft pick who usually does not have much to say but was very vocal Tuesday about where he needed to improve. Although he started all 16 games last year for the first time in his short career, he was part of a defense that allowed more yards than any team in NFL history.
When the Saints signed Lewis — who led the AFC with 23 passes defensed a year ago for Pittsburgh — it was clear the coaches felt they needed better play at cornerback.
Robinson agrees, even though his 18 passes defensed would have been second to Lewis’ total in the AFC. He also had three interceptions to Lewis’ zero.
“I didn’t play good at all (in 2012),” he said. “I still haven’t come close to my peak. My technique wasn’t sound, and that got me in trouble a lot. There were a good six or seven plays I wish I could have gotten back.”
There were none against Houston. He had zero tackles, but also gave up zero completions. He will try to build on that performance in the preseason finale at Miami on Thursday, with coach Sean Payton promising extra snaps to wipe off any remaining rust while the other starters and locks for roster spots rest.
“He played well,” Payton said. “He might get a little bit more work than normal on Thursday in this game, but he handled the snaps he had real well.”
Robinson admits his right knee still needs to get a little stronger after his June surgery, something he says he opted for because of wear and tear rather than a specific injury. He is intentionally vague about the exact cause or problem.
“It was an ongoing thing,” he said. “I finally got it fixed and cleaned up.”
If Robinson has not lived to his own expectations or those of outsiders, he has a legitimate excuse. He is learning his third scheme in three years under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, following Steve Spagnuolo in 2012 and Gregg Williams in 2011.
His head is spinning.
“It’s very multiple this year,” Robinson said, referring to the defense. “There are lot of new coverages, so it’s pretty different from last year. These past two years it’s been tough, as far as these new systems coming in. It’s been kind of challenging to be honest.”
Robinson made 28 tackles with zero interceptions and four starts in 2010, his rookie year. Those numbers increased to 47, four and seven, respectively, in 2011, and rose to 64, three (with a 99-yard touchdown return against Philadelphia) and 16 in 2012.
It is the right progression statistically, but Robinson was in the wrong place a few too many times a year ago.
“Obviously, he is a big part of that defense,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “Especially at the corner position, you have to be able to play with a lot of confidence and a lot of times you are out there on an island. ... We have all seen Patrick Robinson play at a high level at times. For him, like any young player, you just think about each year and getting a little bit better and how can I be a mainstay on this defense for a long time.”
Robinson, whose raw skills never have been questioned, feels he has the answer.
“I’ve learned that you have to be consistent,” he said. “When I played last year, I was very inconsistent with my technique, and it showed. I wasn’t in position. That’s the main thing I learned.”
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