- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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The early indications are that Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson will be sliding inside at times, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be sliding off the field.
Almost immediately after taking the job, new Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan made it known that he wanted to have three starting-caliber cornerbacks. It took some time, but just before the NFL draft, the Falcons traded for Asante Samuel.
Pair him with Brent Grimes and Robinson, and Nolan has exactly what he wants. But that has a lot of Atlanta fans speculating about who will be the odd man out. I think that’s the wrong question to ask because I don’t think there’s an answer.
In Nolan’s system, all three cornerbacks will play extensively. It really doesn’t matter who starts and who doesn’t. Nolan realizes the NFL has become a passing league and I’m pretty sure the Falcons will be lining up in their nickel package more often than not.
All that emerged from Tuesday’s media session is that the Falcons are working with Robinson sliding inside in nickel situations. It’s a job he sometimes filled when he was with Houston and it’s a role he wants.
“I would slide inside and DeMarcus Faggins would play outside,” Robinson said. “It’d give me a chance to do a lot of different things inside. It’s something I’ve been asking to do around here, but personnel reasons, they wanted to keep me outside. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m back at home. I’ve made a lot of plays inside so I’m excited about going back in there.”
But a lot of people are assuming that means Grimes and Samuel will be the starters and Robinson will be nothing more than a situational player. I don’t see that being the case. Just because a guy lines up as your nickel back, doesn’t mean he’s coming in from the sideline. Through the years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sometimes have slid Ronde Barber from outside to the inside in nickel situations and other teams have done similar things.
There will be plenty of snaps for Robinson, Samuel and Grimes. The Falcons didn’t hesitate to keep Robinson on the field last season. Look back at this post from February that shows Robinson led all NFC South cornerbacks in playing time last season. He was on the field for 97.09 percent of Atlanta’s defensive snaps last season. Grimes, who missed four games with an injury, participated in 69.48 percent of Atlanta’s defensive snaps. The Falcons used Christopher Owens and Kelvin Hayden as their nickel backs last year, but they also had to fill in while Grimes was injured. Owens played 30.22 percent of the snaps, while Hayden was on the field for 21.89 percent.
Samuel participated in 78.5 percent of Philadelphia’s defensive snaps last year while missing two games with an injury.
Robinson might not be on the field for 97 percent of the snaps in 2012, but he definitely isn’t headed for the bench.