MANKATO — When defensive back Antoine Winfield was released by the Minnesota Vikings in March, and later signed with the Seattle Seahawks, cornerback Josh Robinson was one of many Vikings jarred by the decision.
“He’s special, definitely,” Robinson said. “Very talented, in not just his tackling ability, but just playing smart. So, yeah, it was sad to see Antoine go.”
The Vikings often use the mantra: “Next man up.” And Robinson is the man the team hopes can fill Winfield’s big void in the vital nickel back slot.
“I don’t really control any of that,” Robinson said of his new role. “When I was told, I was like, ‘OK, cool.’ I’m going to give it my best. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
The second-year cornerback from Central Florida is coming off an impressive rookie season. Robinson lined up for 667 snaps in 16 games, started six games and caught two interceptions.
This season, Robinson is set to replace Winfield, a popular teammate and one of the league’s steadiest defensive backs for more than a decade. Though they only played one season together, Robinson says he was influenced by the lead-by-example cornerback.
“Antoine doesn’t say much,” Robinson, 22, said, “but he when he does say something, you key-in and listen. And I made sure to listen.”
Robinson is certainly not lacking in speed. He was drafted in the third round in 2012 after running the fastest 40-yard dash at the rookie combine — 4.33 seconds. But he has played on the outside virtually his entire football career, and grasping the subtleties of the inside nickel-corner position poses complex challenges, even for a veteran.
“The nickel spot is a different animal,” Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “It requires a big skill set. We know there’s a learning curve, but he has handled it well. He’s going to make mistakes — everybody does when you’re new to a position — but I feel good about how he’s picking things up.”