Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
When Chad Pennington steps into the Dolphins' first huddle Sunday at Reliant Stadium, Dunta Robinson won't be contemplating what route his man will run against him. He'll be watching from the sideline, again.
Robinson's contribution will be limited to advice to his fellow defensive backs. But Monday, the cornerback expects to be officially removed from the physically unable to perform list.
Wednesday he expects to practice. And if he's not active Oct. 19 against Detroit, he expects to go against Cincinnati the next week. The Texans have endured a brutal start to a season that began with high expectations. It took a special fourth quarter for Houston not to win in Week 5 against Indianapolis, when the Colts overcame a 17-point lead with less than five minutes to play and won without even needing overtime.
Could it have been different if Robinson, and not Jacques Reeves, were covering Reggie Wayne on a big fourth-down conversion early on the game-winning touchdown catch late? The boost Robinson may be able to provide for the Texans is about all the team's fans have to look forward to now.
And he likes the idea that the expectations are so high.
"I like the fact that the fans are depending on me," he said in a phone chat this week. "It makes you feel good. It gives you that adrenaline rush that makes you want to go out there and play for these fans. They are so into you, it's like you're the savior and you don't want to disappoint them. I have a lot to play for, besides myself and my family. I definitely want to win for these fans."
Houston general manager Rick Smith said once Robinson is ready, it's fair to expect a big impact.
"Obviously when you talk about a player like Dunta Robinson and what he can add to your defense, when he is playing at the level he was playing at last year before he got hurt, there is a significant improvement and upgrade for your football team," Smith said. "We certainly think that it can be not only an upgrade but also a shot in the arm for our entire team."
Next week is the first week of a window that runs up to Week 10 during which teams can activate players off the PUP list. Once that happens, another window opens. A player doesn't count against the 53-man roster and for three weeks while he can practice, after which time his club has to put him on the roster or shift him to injured reserve. In the case of Robinson, the Texans won't use the entire three weeks.
Sixteen players in the league are on PUP, including Cleveland receiver Joe Jurevicius, Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams and Giants Super Bowl hero David Tyree. (NFC South maven Pat Yasinskas touches on Williams' status in this entry today.)
Six of the 16 PUP players are in the AFC South, including Robinson and two Colts, linebacker Tyjuan Hagler and guard Ryan Lilja. (Hagler could emerge next week; it sounds like Lilja will need more time.)
Of the group, Robinson is probably the best player. The 10th overall pick in the 2004 draft has 11 career interceptions in 57 games over four seasons. One personnel man in the division said he thinks Robinson can make a big difference for the Texans, and not just in pass defense. He said Robinson has proved to be a willing tackler in run-support.
He classified the corner as an up-and-comer before the injury -- "not quite elite" -- who brought good speed, change-of-direction skills and aggression and had won the supreme confidence of his coaches, who match him up with an opponent's best receiver.
Robinson said he could have gotten medical clearance in August, but admitted he was not mentally ready after ripping up his right knee at Oakland last Nov. 4.In the middle of training camp he still felt like he was re-leaning how to run.
"I was struggling with my motion, I was trying to get my running form down," he said. "Once I got that down, once I got my extension squared away everything kind of moved fast. I was back feeling OK. Now I am breaking, now I am jumping to catch footballs, now I am mirroring -- not receivers, but the trainers -- because you can't go against the receivers when you are on PUP. And that gave me confidence."
When he returns, the Texans will be able to get Reeves, who is often in range of plays but unable or unwilling to turn to find the ball, out of the lineup.
As they've lost their first four, the Texans have preached that it's not been one player making the difference in things going bad.
Smith said he hopes that same message is on everyone's radar as they look to Robinson to help reduce numbers like the 7.39 yards per attempt opponents are rolling up, a number that has Houston rated 22nd in the league.
All of which has to sound good to Texans in the locker room and in the crowd at Reliant Stadium.
Smith, though, hopes people will be cautious with their expectations just as the team was cautious with the rehabilitation.
"When you talk about success or failures in this game, I think it's unfair to point the finger at one guy as being totally responsible," he said. "It's a team game. It's not a situation where we are asking him to come in and be something other than that which he is, and that's a good solid football player that can help our team."