Linebacker Matt Robinson’s experience at safety helps Maryland defense

September 10, 2013
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From his perch on the strong side of Maryland’s 3-4 defense, Matt Robinson finally feels at ease. The two shoulder ailments that derailed his sophomore and junior seasons are healed. The yellow non-contact jersey is off and, if Robinson has any say, it will never be worn again. He executed the switch from safety to linebacker this season without a hitch. Through two games, it seems the right move was made.

“I definitely feel pretty well,” Robinson said Tuesday afternoon as a sizable crowd of reporters gathered around him. “I definitely felt at ease. I have a little more room to run around. Even though stuff is happening a lot faster, I’m able to make a few more plays. Just feeling a big part of the defense.”

Three games into his sophomore season, Robinson underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder. The left shoulder followed suit last fall, as a torn labrum kept him sidelined for all but five games. Comparisons to former Maryland player Kenneth Tate inevitably follow. Amid a string of injuries, Tate also moved from safety to linebacker. That never quite panned out as hoped.

“I just think he had some unfortunate events with his injuries, and I’ve had some as well,” Robinson said. “Stuff happens, you have to run with it. I’ve been looking at it as a new opportunity, fresh start, trying to get better. I didn’t really have any complaints. People ask if I don’t like it, I’ve always taken it with a grain of salt, kept moving forward with it to help the team.”

If Robinson returned to safety, Maryland’s linebacking unit would survive. His backup, Alex Twine, has demonized opposing returners on special teams and during preseason camp was considered interchangeable with Robinson. But Robinson’s versatility, size and intelligence suits him for the second level, where he can blitz like a defensive end or drop into coverage like his old self.

“I think I know certain route combinations, stuff maybe linebackers aren’t used to seeing,” he said. “They don’t really see it a lot in practice, and they haven’t seen it a lot before because they haven’t played safety or covered people like that. I think I have an overall grasp of some concepts that come a little faster, allowed me to be different.”

This allows Coach Randy Edsall to throw Robinson into substitution packages. Against Old Dominion’s spread offense on Saturday, he played inside at Mo and Mike linebacker during dime packages, as opposed to his usual Sam spot. Robinson starts on kickoff coverage and ranks second on the team with 12 tackles through two games. Two of those have resulted in a loss of yards.

“I still think he hasn’t reached a ceiling yet, that he’s going to continue to grow and develop,” Edsall said. “That’s what really helps you become better on defense, when you have guys who have that versatility that you can do.”

They miss his presence in the defensive backs room, but understand the Terps are better off with Robinson at linebacker. Safeties Sean Davis and Anthony Nixon have proved themselves capable replacements for Robinson and the recently departed Eric Franklin. Besides, it helps having a liaison at linebacker in front, someone familiar with coverage schemes who speaks their language.

“Oh it’s good,” cornerback Dexter McDougle said. “Especially with just communication. Matt was a DB, so we can communicate with him. He knows what we’re doing, but he also knows what the linebackers and all of them are doing. It makes communication better, play a lot faster. It’s really good to have him there, having experience with the DBs.”

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Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt · September 10, 2013