WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Patrick Robinson is moving closer to regaining his starting job at cornerback — if only he can stay healthy.
Robinson left Sunday afternoon’s practice at The Greenbrier Resort with what appeared to be an injury. After practice, coach Sean Payton declined to discuss Robinson’s status.
Payton did tell reporters that Robinson’s return from last season’s season-ending knee injury (Game 2 at Tampa Bay) has been encouraging. That’s good news for a fifth-year player still trying to prove he’s more talented than injury-prone.
“But I don’t know that our vision for his role is any different than what it was at the start of training camp,” Payton said. “He’s competing to be one of our cornerbacks and also, he has the ability to come inside (at nickelback).”
Free-agent acquisition Champ Bailey, his primary competition, remains on the sideline at training camp with an undisclosed injury. Bailey also missed Friday night’s preseason opener at St. Louis.
Meanwhile, Robinson has displayed many of the traits that once made him the franchise’s No. 1 pick (32nd overall) in the 2010 NFL draft: physical play, quick feet, ball skills.
Bailey, who is entering his 16th NFL season, was expected to start this fall opposite fellow cornerback Keenan Lewis.
Lewis took Robinson’s job before his injury.
Bailey’s absence, if not reconciled soon, may create an opening in the defensive back depth chart, with third-year pro Corey White, second-year pro Rod Sweeting and Trevin Wade (a third-year pro) the top options after Robinson.
“He’s got good football instincts, he’s got good feet,” Payton said of Wade, whose play at St. Louis (four tackles, quarerback pressure leading to a Tyrunn Walker sack) likely improved his status. “He’s got good hands and ball skills. Ideally, he’s better in the nickel role, playing inside, both with zone and man. He’s competing for that opportunity, as well as in the kicking game. He did some good things the other night.”
Defensive tackle John Jenkins made his debut at training camp practice, working with teammates for the first time.
Jenkins missed part of OTAs with pectoral surgery.
Now that he’s back, Payton said the goal is to move his big man slowly back into the defense.
“We’ve got to be mindful that there’s a transition here where everything isn’t right away,” Payton said of Jenkins, who was taken off the PUP list. “He’s in better shape. I’d say his weight is down. I’d say that’s different when you’re injured and you’re a big guy.”
Jenkins, now in his second season, was expected to challenge for extended playing time on the defensive line. Last season, Jenkins played in all 16 games, starting five. He finished with 21 tackles and one sack.
Jones to play
Expect fullback Greg Jones to play soon, if not Friday’s preseason home opener against Tennessee (1-0).
“There’s a couple of guys I wasn’t going to play because they had just signed last week,” Payton said. ”But he’ll get some work this week and be able to get some work in the game.”
Jones, an 11th-year pro who has blocked for Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, will complete against rookie free agent Austin Johnson. Erik Lorig is out with an undisclosed injury.
Paying the price
Backup quarterback Ryan Griffin will take a big hit in exchange for a big play down the field.
“Especially when he scores,” Griffin said, referring to the shot he took during the third quarter of Friday night’s win at St. Louis. He released a short pass to rookie receiver Brandin Cooks, who zipped his way to the end zone for a 25-yard score.
“It didn’t even happen, as far as I’m concerned,” Griffin said of the hit.
Running back Mark Ingram called him RG4, a play off the nickname of Robert Griffin III, the dual-threat quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
Asked if Griffin needs to run more to earn such a nickname, Ingram disagreed.
“RG3 runs,” Ingram explained. “RG4 does what he has to do.”