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Josh Robinson hopes workout changes put him over the edge

MINNEAPOLIS -- Quick: Close your eyes and think about Josh Robinson's 2014 season with the Minnesota Vikings. What's the first thing that pops into your mind?

There's a good chance it's a Nov. 16 game in Soldier Field, when Robinson returned from a bye week and a solid first half of the season, only to find the Chicago Bears waiting to go after him.

According to Pro Football Focus, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler targeted 15 of his 43 passes at Robinson that day, using the five-inch height difference between Robinson and the team's top two receivers to catalyze the Bears' offense. Cutler completed 11 of those 15 passes for 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and also hit on a 44-yard touchdown strike to Brandon Marshall over Robinson on a play where he was supposed to get deep help from Robert Blanton.

Robinson stood at his locker for 10 minutes after the 21-13 loss, politely answering questions about his long day. He was in position to make plays on all three touchdown passes, and though the game stood out, it was surrounded by moments of improvement for Robinson during his third season in the NFL.

Robinson, a third-round pick in 2012, is in a contract year, and he's fighting for playing time in a cornerback group upgraded by a first-round pick and a veteran free agent. After last season, Robinson returned home to South Florida knowing that close won't cut it.

He tweaked the training routine he used while working out with his brother, adding drills where he had to locate the ball on a close play or knock it out of a receiver's hands after the wideout had latched on. In addition to boxing and CrossFit, Robinson did more running on the beach and returned to his alma mater to work out with Plantation High School sprinter Khai McLin, who ran the 100-meter dash in 10.54 seconds this season and competed in the prestigious Pre Classic in Oregon last month. The extra cardio work, Robinson believed, would make a difference late in games.

"It's more about being able to have solid technique when you're tired," he said. "That's when your technique has to stand up, because that's when the game is most important."

There probably hasn't been a season for Robinson in Minnesota that's more important than this one. He'll make $1.542 million in the final year of his contract and could be in line for a new deal if he's able to earn a starting spot. But after they drafted Trae Waynes and reunited Terence Newman with Mike Zimmer, the Vikings don't necessarily have to rely on Robinson.

He had some work with the first-team defense during the first two weeks of organized team activities, while Xavier Rhodes was sidelined and then away from the team for his son's kindergarten graduation. But Robinson wasn't part of the Vikings' top base defense on Thursday, with Rhodes and Newman back together, and he'll have to earn his way into the lineup.

"Every year, I have this mentality where I need a job. I'm working to get a job," Robinson said. "I don't worry about who they brought in, how good they are. I just do my best to compete."

Robinson's health alone puts him in a better spot than last year, when he dealt with hamstring injuries from OTAs all the way through training camp, once causing Zimmer to refer to Robinson as "that other guy" when listing his injured defensive backs. The hamstring issues lingered into the season until Robinson realized he needed to drink more water and be more diligent about stretching.

He's feeling healthy now, and he's been able to approach Newman for pointers about press-coverage techniques in Zimmer's system. "I’m not sure he was uncomfortable before; it was more about refining things," Zimmer said. "That's kind of what we’re trying to do."

Refinement, Robinson hopes, will turn the close plays into commendations this year.

"Every year is tough, whether you've got six corners who can play or just three," Robinson said. "I've always ended up being in the mix when I compete. I'm just going to continue to compete and let them sort it out."