CB Robinson getting chance to start fresh

METAIRIE, La. -- The only thing that stood out as much as Jairus Byrd’s absence from New Orleans Saints practice on Thursday was the presence of cornerback Patrick Robinson on the starting defense.

Robinson, who missed most of last season with a torn patellar tendon, was considered by many analysts to be on the bubble this offseason because of his rising salary and inconsistent production over the past two years. But the Saints have clearly remained committed to their former first-round pick.

It's far too early to rank the contenders for the No. 2 cornerback job with veteran Champ Bailey and third-year pro Corey White also heavily in the mix.

But it was good to see that Robinson will have a bona fide opportunity to get his career back on track.

"Look, he’s still a young player that we’ve seen develop,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of Robinson, who turns 27 in September. “He’s someone that can run, that we think has good instincts. So I’m sure he’s just as anxious as we are to get out here healthy.

“We felt last offseason he did a lot of good things. So he’s right there as one of the guys competing for playing time and for a spot at that corner position.”

Robinson, a first-round pick out of Florida State in 2010, showed promise early in his career. But he’s had a rough stretch over the past two seasons.

He struggled in 2012 in his first year as a full-time starter -- though the entire defense struggled in that disastrous season in which the Saints set a NFL record for yards allowed under former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Then last year, Robinson suffered a minor knee injury early in the summer that wiped out most of his preseason, followed by the season-ending injury in Week 2. He missed out on his chance to be part of the Saints’ stunning revival under new coordinator Rob Ryan.

“He’s been through a lot,” said Ryan, who said Robinson was looking great last summer before the injuries crept up. “He’s a special athlete, a unique guy that can bend. For such a big corner, he’s got natural bend. We’re going to have competition all over, but we think Patrick is going to be great for us, and we know he will be.

“It’s unique. We have competition everywhere on this team, and whoever lines up first out of the tunnel, I’m sure the other guys will be playing plenty. We’re going to put our best players out there. That’s what Sean [Payton] hired me to do, and I think I’m pretty good at identifying that and playing to our players’ strengths. That’s what we’ll do, and we’re going to be damn good at it.”

Robinson (5-foot-11, 191 pounds) has always stood out because of his speed and his knack for snagging interceptions. His seven picks from 2011-12 led the team over that two-year stretch.

He’s struggled more in press coverage -- something he’ll have to improve to fit in Ryan’s defense. And his confidence was an issue when he first started with the Saints, which is something he’ll have to regain quickly after such a long hiatus.

Robinson wasn't available for interviews Thursday, but Payton said he’s been impressed by his attitude.

“He is moving around well, and there is some rust I’m sure he is working through,” Payton said. “His rehab has been real good. He has worked real hard at it and he seems to be moving pretty fluidly. I am sure as he continues to do that and gets more comfortable with football movements, that’ll help. But he has had a good offseason with regards to his injury and how he has approached it.”