Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Undrafted Robinson took chance, ran with it
By Mike Triplett
Khiry Robinson didn't just go undrafted out of West Texas A&M. The New Orleans Saints rookie running back also went unsigned that first weekend as a free agent.
He had to settle for a three-day tryout at the Saints' rookie minicamp, where he was just impressive enough to earn an invitation to training camp.
Eight months later, Robinson was helping to run out the clock in the Saints' 26-24 playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Robinson had eight carries for 45 yards against the Eagles, including three carries for 22 yards during the Saints' game-winning field goal drive.
Undrafted rookie Khiry Robinson had eight carries for 45 yards in the wild-card win over the Eagles.
"At that point in time, it was just all about having faith," Robinson said, reflecting back on that rookie minicamp while sitting in the victorious visitors' locker room Saturday night. "So I didn't get drafted, I didn't get picked up, you know. But it all worked out for me. I just kept my head high, kept my faith and kept working hard. And I'm here today to help the team win. I'm happy for that."
Even when he started turning heads in training camp and preseason games with a combination of power and speed that reminded everyone of former Saints Cinderella story Chris Ivory, Robinson still seemed like an extreme long shot to make New Orleans' 53-man roster.
But the Saints didn't want to give up on so much potential, so they made the unusual decision to keep five running backs.
Robinson, 24, made a few impressive cameos during the regular season, appearing in 10 games to produce 224 rushing yards and a touchdown. Then he played an even bigger role in his playoff debut, since starter Pierre Thomas was out with a back injury.
Asked if he ever envisioned being in such a position, Robinson said, "No, I wasn't too sure. ... I just wait for my number to be called. I try to work hard during the week and then earn trust from the coaches. And when my number's called, I try to do something great so I can get it called again."
It's safe to say that Robinson earned another opportunity.
However, he may have to wait in line if Thomas comes back from his injury this week against the Seattle Seahawks. Thomas has been a go-to guy for the Saints all season. And running back Mark Ingram had even more of a breakout performance against the Eagles with 97 yards and a touchdown. And, oh by the way, Darren Sproles isn't too shabby as a dynamic runner-receiver.
This is an example of what NFL teams like to call "a good problem to have."
"A lot of firsts for him," Saints coach Sean Payton said when asked about Robinson's latest achievement. "I was proud of how he finished. I thought ball security was never in doubt. [That was] strong. He's powerful. For a guy that was at a tryout camp, basically, and even after having him we almost didn't bring him back to training camp, obviously he has progressed and done a great job. It was a big night for him."
The 6-foot, 220-pound Robinson ran for 2,290 yards, gained 612 receiving yards and scored 32 touchdowns in two years at West Texas A&M after transferring from Blinn Junior College in Texas. He was named to the D2Football.com All-America team after gaining a school-record 1,621 yards as a senior.
That was impressive enough to get a handful of tryout invites -- if not a firm offer. Robinson said he chose the Saints in large part because of their recent history with undrafted running backs like Ivory, Thomas and Travaris Cadet.
"I wanted to play football. I seen the best situation. And I took it and ran with it," Robinson said.
He admitted that it was "a little rough" to get used to the speed of the NFL game and the terminology of the Saints' playbook during his early summer practices. But he said he'll always remember those first rookie camp sessions. He said he thinks he impressed the Saints with his performance in the second practice in that first set of two-a-days.
"I want to say it was [make or break time]. So my second practice is what really made me," said Robinson, who said it is cool to look back on the memories now. "Oh yeah, always. You never forget where you come from."