Saints' Robinson adjusting to NFL success

by Patrick Flanagan

New Orleans Saints running back Khiry Robinson gets a little nervous when media gathers around his locker, which seems to be happening more frequently lately.

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - New Orleans Saints running back Khiry Robinson gets a little nervous when media gathers around his locker, which seems to be happening more frequently lately.

The second-year pro never got much attention playing junior college and Division II football. That has changed now that he's leading the Saints in rushing and has a game-winning touchdown to his name.

"It still feels like a dream sometimes. That's why I'm always running from the cameras," said Robinson, who's 18-yard scoring run in overtime won Sunday's game against Tampa Bay. "I'm not used to it yet. I still feel like I'm just playing football."

He is, indeed, playing, and rather well, though it wasn't even obvious to the Saints that he was going to be as effective as he has been since late last season.

When he was brought in for a tryout during New Orleans' 2013 post-draft rookie camp, he didn't really stand out at first, in large part, coach Sean Payton said, because offseason practices are held without pads. Still, the Saints held on to him for training camp - when some full contact practices are held - and they're glad they did.

"His transition was not smooth, initially," Payton recalled this week. "Fortunately, he got to training camp. When the pads came on for him, he became a much different player than we envisioned, just in regards to his style, I would say. ... He's a physical runner."

To find a prime example of the way the 6-foot, 220-pound Robinson runs, one need look no further than his tackle-breaking, game-clinching run against the Buccaneers. After correctly reading his blocks as he burst across the line of scrimmage and gathered steam, Robinson lowered his shoulder and steamrolled two safeties before high stepping away from their desperate grasps and galloping into the end zone.

For Robinson, the play was more instinctive than calculated.

"I wasn't even thinking," Robinson said. "I just cut up (field) and whoever was in the way had to get out of the way."

Veteran tight end Ben Watson, who was blocking on the play, described Robinson's power as "something that you really can't teach."

"Some running backs are blessed with power and it's God-given and it's not necessarily about weight or strength," Watson said. "He can run over guys that are twice his size and then also run past them."

While the Saints liked Robinson's running style, he was raw and coaches were initially reluctant to play him, lest he fail to pick up a blitzer coming full bore for franchise quarterback Drew Brees. Later in the 2013 season, the Saints started using him on power runs late in games, when they were trying to protect leads against tiring defensive lines. He showed promise, rushing 54 times for 254 yards and a touchdown.

This season, Robinson has carried 61 times for 304 yards and two touchdowns. His 5 yards per carry ranks fifth in the NFL among 26 running backs with 50 or more carries.

Robinson was an All-District player at Belton High School in Texas before starting his college career at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College in Minnesota. He then transferred to Blinn Junior College in his native Texas, playing both safety and running back, and winning a NJCAA national title on a team featuring current Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

He spent his last two college seasons at West Texas A&M, where he was All-Lone Star Conference in 2012 with a school record 1,621 yards rushing to go with 15 TDs on the ground. He also had 430 yards and four TDs receiving.

He said a knee injury during junior college, and briefly being moved to safety, made him doubt whether the NFL was in his future, but he wasn't going to give up.

"You've got to keep faith, do what you go to do," Robinson said as he sat at his locker inside Saints headquarters. "That's what I did and ended up here."

In retrospect, he's glad he took the path he did. He enjoyed his year in Minnesota, a vastly different place from where he grew up, and at each stop after that he knew he'd have to work extremely hard to get noticed.

"I feel like it was all part of the journey, you know," Robinson said. "I'd rather have it that way anyway and work for it, and then when I get here it's that much better."