Kenny Robinson Finding Balance At Back End of WVU Defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There’s a fine line in playing free safety; one that many players at the position never fully master.
It’s a position of duality, putting the practitioner in a decision-making bind on each play. Run or pass? Which receiver is going deep? Is the quarterback baiting with a fake, or is he locked on to the opponent in my zone?
There are other defenders that face such choices, but perhaps none are so visible as those at the back of the defense. Go the wrong way, make the wrong read, and a touchdown can result. A linebacker failing to fill the gap might be just as guilty in giving up a score as a free safety biting on a run fake, but the majority won’t be able to single him out. The free safety though, like the cornerback, is out there exposed.
Developing the ability to make the right choices all (or most) of the time takes, well, time. There’s nothing like experience, and a few mistakes on the practice field, to reinforce the lessons being taught by coaches. Once a safety has seen the same pass route combinations over and over, or concepts designed to draw him out of position, he becomes more savvy. At least, the accomplished ones do.
For WVU, free safety Kenny Robinson might be a little bit ahead of the curve. After moving around the defensive secondary last year as a true freshman, he has been slotted at free for the 2018 season, and through a pair of games has acquitted himself well. He has not broken the first commandment at free, “Thou shalt not be beaten deep,” but has also managed to maintain his aggressive posture.
“I fell like I have been doing good. I haven’t let anyone behind me, so I think I have been balancing very well reading run and getting my pass reads right,” the Wilkinsburg, Pa., native said.
Robinson has proved to be a quick learner at his new home. His identification of balance is an apt one, as he hasn’t been simply sitting back deep on every play. He’s actually second on the team in tackles with 13 through the first two contests, and although a free safety with big tackle numbers can sometimes be an indicator of defensive problems, that’s not true for WVU so far. He has made good diagnoses, and is getting to the ball quickly once his first assignment of not letting the ball be thrown over his head is completed.
Tougher challenges await, though, both in the form of prolific Big 12 passing offenses down the road and Kansas State on Saturday. While the Wildcats won’t test the deep waters often, they are masters of running the same looks multiple times to draw certain reactions from defenders, then running play-action or other fake run looks to open the way for the deep ball. In some ways, that’s a tougher assignment than facing a passing offense where 40 or more throws are the norm.
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One thing that Robinson does want to improve on is his elusiveness after interceptions. That might seem odd, given that he has run back two of his three interceptions for touchdowns in his young career. However, as often happens, it’s the oddity that gets the attention, and that’s what has followed for the sophomore since his pick of K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson a year ago.
“What I remember the most about it was getting caught,” said Robinson, who was also a quarterback in high school. “The team was on me all week: ‘You got caught by the quarterback.’ I knew I was going to hear about it, and I still hear about it.”
Robinson’s interception was an important one, as it snuffed a fourth-quarter Wildcat scoring threat to help preserve a 28-23 WVU win. With K-State at the Mountaineer 19, Robinson snared the pass and ran it back past midfield. There, though, Thompson ran him down, which for some reason is what everyone remembers.
Robinson redeemed himself a week later, recording West Virginia’s first points with a 94-yard scoring return that kept the Mountaineers in the game against Texas.
“I didn’t get caught the next week,” he said with a smile.