The former sixth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft out of Michigan State used his greater understanding of the 49ers defense to stand out in the team’s offseason program.
At the 49ers three-day minicamp, Robinson rotated with the first-team defense at free safety on the final day of minicamp and also turned in an impressive diving interception the day before during a 7-on-7 drill.
Robinson credited the turnover to his improved knowledge of the 49ers defense. With a more than a year of practice time under his belt, Robinson is now able to react to everything he sees on the field.
“I can’t even explain it,” Robinson began, “you get in here and you don’t know anything, you still have a lot to learn, but I just can move now. I hear a call and it’s natural. I don’t have to think about anything before I go.
“I’m just running and moving a lot faster. It’s great.”
It also helps that Robinson continues to be mentored by Pro Bowl safety
Robinson, a three-year starter in college, was immediately drawn to Whitner, a fellow Big Ten Conference standout at Ohio State.
Whitner helped Robinson throughout the 2012 season. In fact, the second-year safety remembers his first encounter with the veteran hard-hitter in the defensive back meeting room quite well.
“When I first got here, he was like, ‘Sit right here,’” Robinson recalled. “I sat right next to him and I still do.”
Robinson, a 5-foot-9, 193-pound safety, credits his improvement to the mentorship from the eighth-year veteran who excels at using his leverage as a 5-foot-10, 208-pound safety.
“Anything I have a question on, he’ll give me the answer to it, or he’ll help me think through it to find the answer to it," Robinson detailed. "It’s just great to watch him write his notes down.”
The note-taking aspect of Robinson’s preparations have become veteran-like thanks to Whitner.
“Last year he’d be like, ‘Let me see your notes,’ and he’d say, ‘This isn’t up to par. You have to have better notes if you want to do better,’” Robinson shared.
“Now, my notes are much better. I write down anything that I might have a question on, or anything I don’t have the answer too, or anything I do know it, I still right it down.”
Robinson’s development has caught the attention of San Francisco’s defensive coordinator. Vic Fangio, entering his third year with the 49ers, commented on the progress being made by Robinson and two other second-year defensive draft picks,
Fangio was asked about the 2013 draft class, but made a point to publically evaluate the strides of his sophomore class.
“I’m more interested really to see where they’re at because they should be really a lot farther along having been here now for a full year,” Fangio detailed. “Now’s the second year, you can really start to evaluate a draft class. So, I’m really more interested right now in seeing where those guys are.”
“They’re all a whole lot better than they were last year. Cam Johnson is a very viable candidate to make this team right now. Trenton is, too. And Darius Fleming was doing very good work at inside linebacker, which we switched him to at the start of OTAs. And he was doing very good work there until he got a little injured there. So, been pleased with those three guys. Feel a lot stronger about them now than I did last year at this time.”
Robinson believes the hard-working nature of the 2012 draft class is paying off. The group took a short bit of time off following their rookie season, three weeks to be exact, before getting back to work at 49ers headquarters.
“As a group, us second-year guys, all the guys I came in with my class, we all hang out all the time and we talk about football, the things we want to be and things we want to do,” Robinson said. “To have a bunch of guys out here with you that want to accomplish the same goals as you and want to become a starter, it’s great for us to stick together like that. It’s a good thing.”
With the guidance of veterans on the roster coupled with the camaraderie of his fellow draft class, Robinson has been able to make strides in his first full offseason in the NFL.
The interception at minicamp, for example, speaks to the faster and more instinctual player Robinson has become.
“It feels good,” he said. “That’s what we do as DBs, that’s how we move up, by making plays. That’s what I’m trying to do.”