METAIRIE — For a moment early in Sunday’s game with the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints second-year cornerback Patrick Robinson allowed his emotions to get the best of him.
For a moment, Robinson thought Saints coaches might yell at him. Which, when he was reminded of it a few days later, certainly could have happened a year ago when he was a raw rookie.
But when Robinson intercepted Panthers rookie Cam Newton on the game’s first play and returned the errant pass inside the Carolina 10 to set up the offense for a quick score, his big play and unbridled exuberance were welcomed.
The second-year pro, who has settled in and started the past four games at right cornerback, whipped the ball high into the air after he was tackled at the Panthers’ 6 following his second NFL interception. The first came one week earlier against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“That was just emotion,” Robinson said, noting the second pick was more satisfying. “I really didn’t realize that I did that, but I was like, ‘I just cost myself,’ I didn’t know if I was going to get a penalty or not, so it was all emotion.”
All he got when he returned to the bench area, however, was smiles.
It all goes to show how much progress Robinson, a first-round draft pick in 2010, has made since he was the ridden hard by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams throughout his rookie season.
But even the thought of that brought a smile to Robinson’s face.
Each year, the fiery Williams picks a young player who has potential to make an example of with the goal of polishing him through his teaching and cajoling.
“I was the only defensive rookie that made the roster for the regular season,” Robinson said, “so it was very hard for me.”
When asked what was the worst thing that Williams did to him last year either on the field or in the meeting room, Robinson just grinned.
“There were so many things,” he said, perhaps thinking of walking on egg shells around Williams. “I really don’t know, but it was a rough year for me. It was seriously rough.
“I wasn’t afraid (to do something), but at the same time I didn’t want to be the guy that messed up. So I was kind of playing cautious.”
One year later, the speedy Robinson has improved by leaps and bounds despite not having offseason workouts, classroom study and organized team activities to hone his skills.
Williams raved about Robinson’s play throughout training camp when starter Tracy Porter missed the first two weeks while recovering from offseason knee surgery.
Then Robinson stepped in and showed what he had learned when Porter missed two games with a calf injury.
“He’s progressed a lot,” Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. “He’s probably a lot like a lot of rookies in the second year. What you begin to see from a cornerback standpoint, offensively, it begins to slow down some.
“I would say what we’re doing he’s picked up, and you just get that much more of a grasp of your own scheme defensively. So when the player has a very high comfort level in what his assignment is, then you see him be able to play a little bit more aggressively, play a little faster.”
Payton said the players that hesitate or are uncertain about what they’re doing have a harder time playing at game speed.
But that doesn’t seem to be a problem this season for Robinson, who said he was determined going into this season to be a better player than he was a year ago.
“It’s going pretty good right now, everything’s going good,” he said. “I just feel a lot more comfortable this year, and I think things are going my way.”
The difference, he said, is being more focused and motivated. Consistency is a big thing, too, which has allowed him to stay with the first-team defense even though Porter has been back for the past two games.
“I think I was more focused in training camp this year,” Robinson said. “I was more comfortable, and it feels like things are going my way because of that.
“I’m starting to see the same things I saw last year, and they’re not a surprise any more. Things are going a little slower for me right now.”