With Antoine Winfield off to Seattle, Josh Robinson's progression as a slot cornerback might be one of the biggest keys to the Vikings' defense this season. Winfield played the slot as well as anyone in the NFL last season, holding quarterbacks to the fourth-lowest passer rating in the league when they tested him in slot coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. Additionally, the website ranked Winfield as the best run-stopping corner in the league, and Winfield had done the job long enough that the Vikings were taking a gamble in deciding to cut him and turn the job over to Robinson.
We won't know for sure how that experiment will play out until the regular season, but Sunday night's game in San Francisco could be a decent indicator of where Robinson stands. The 49ers run the ball well enough that Robinson could be tested in run support, and though San Francisco could use all five of its quarterbacks Sunday night, the presence of Colin Kaepernick could give Robinson something to handle for at least part of the game.
For his part, defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Robinson has looked "much more comfortable" in the slot than he expected the second-year corner would be at this point.
"To his credit, he’s really working at it," Williams said. "He’s coming along faster than I think that he even thought he would because he hadn’t been inside. I think he’s embracing it and liking the position in terms of what we allow him to do and the plays that he can make. I feel good about Josh being inside."
Bobby Felder is making a strong push for a roster spot, and should get plenty of playing time Sunday. If he makes the team, he'd give the Vikings another option at slot corner. But the job, by all accounts, is Robinson's to lose. And how he handles it is definitely worth watching early in the Vikings' season.
Asked where Robinson has come the furthest, coach Leslie Frazier said, "I think just seeing him calm down a little bit. Sometimes he can get so hyper about what he’s trying to get done that he begins to overthink things. He’s begun to relax a little bit, and part of that is we put him in a lot of different situations in practice, trying to get him in some situations in games as well, so it is not the first time he sees things when we line up in Detroit.
"I think just the fact that he has slowed down mentally and begun to relax a little bit as a player is probably where the growth has come the most."