Panthers: Robinson in jeopardy of losing roster spot
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó Ryne Robinson reported to training camp determined to nail down three jobs with the Carolina Panthers: kickoff returner, punt returner and No. 4 receiver.
Robinson is 0-for-3 as the preseason winds down, putting his spot on the 53-man regular-season roster in jeopardy.
“I think everybody is out here to prove themselves, and I’m still one of those guys,” Robinson said this week. “I have to come out on a daily basis and show them I can still function and still play at full speed.”
The 2007 fourth-round pick hasn’t shown that since late in his rookie season, when the former Miami of Ohio star shook off a shaky start to show potential as a return man. He had a 34-yard punt return and a 42-yard kickoff return in a late-season game against Dallas.
The 5-foot-9 Robinson even dreamed of following the path of teammate Steve Smith, who went from undersized return specialist to elite receiver.
But then Robinson suffered two sprained ligaments in his left knee early in training camp last year.
His recovery took longer than expected, and the team ran out of patience, putting him on injured reserve Oct. 8.
When the Panthers didn’t re-sign replacement Mark Jones, it gave Robinson a chance to get his jobs back this year. Instead he’s fallen behind younger competition.
Fourth-round pick Mike Goodson has become the No. 1 kickoff returner. Seventh-round pick Captain Munnerlyn is the top punt returner. Second-year pro Kenny Moore (Wake Forest) has taken ownership of the No. 4 receiver job and has also returned kicks.
Robinson, who said he still experiences “some soreness” in his knee, didn’t help his cause in last Saturday’s preseason game. With the Panthers trailing Miami 20-17 late in the fourth quarter, he waved for a fair catch of a punt deep in Carolina territory. Robinson misjudged the ball, it hit the ground, bounced off his chest and was recovered by the Dolphins. Miami quickly scored a touchdown to put the game out of reach.
“I fully take responsibility for that ball hitting the ground,” Robinson said. “It wasn’t supposed to touch the ground at all. I threw up the fair catch signal and backed off of it at the last moment because I wasn’t quite sure where it was going to land.”
The play overshadowed his 15-yard catch from Jake Delhomme on third down in the first quarter to keep a touchdown drive alive.
“Some good, some bad,” coach John Fox said when asked to evaluate Robinson. “Each game you get a new opportunity. I thought offensively he did OK last week. Obviously in the kicking game one error was costly. Again, they play the game and you make mistakes. We’ll take another look at him this week.”
Saturday’s home exhibition game against Baltimore could be crucial for Robinson. If he can’t pull ahead in the return game or at the receiver position, he could be one of 27 players on the roster to lose their jobs Sept. 5. The Panthers could keep two kickers and two fullbacks, squeezing other positions.
“I’m not reading too much into it,” Robinson insisted. “I’m going to keep playing hard and keep doing what I do. Catching the ball, trying to catch it clean and getting upfield and not worrying about everybody else, what they’re doing. It’s about me right now.”
Robinson acknowledged as a rookie he was “second-guessing himself” earlier in the season. He eventually regained the form that allowed him to amass 1,677 punt return yards in college.
After a year off and fresh off a key blunder, Robinson needs to find that confidence again before it’s too late.
“Last game I had the opportunity to catch a third down pass and convert it for a first down,” Robinson said. “That’s more of what I’m looking for, is to get the opportunity to show them this is where I belong.”