Matt Robinson isn’t the first Terrapins football safety to switch from the secondary to linebacker. At the beginning of coach Randy Edsall’s tenure in College Park more than two years ago, All-ACC safety Kenneth Tate did the same.
But while the beginnings of the moves are similar, Robinson is hoping for a far different ending. And after two games at outside linebacker this year, it seems as if that’s what he’s headed for.
Tate’s two years at linebacker in 2011 and 2012 were marred by injuries, and he never quite completed the transition from his spot at safety. For Robinson, the move has been smooth. So far, at least.
“I just think [Tate] had some unfortunate events with his injuries, and I’ve had some as well,” Robinson said yesterday. “But stuff happens, and you just have to sort of run with it, so I’ve just looked at it as a new opportunity, a fresh start and just trying to get better.”
After shoulder and groin injuries derailed Robinson’s past two seasons at safety, he’s finally healthy and — despite wearing a bulky black shoulder brace — comfortable in the Terps’ defense. Two games in, Robinson is tied for second on the team in tackles with 12, and he’s third in tackles for loss with two.
“Matt’s a very versatile player,” Edsall said. “I think sometimes — we were talking about this the other day in the staff room, in the defensive staff room — you don’t really realize how big a young man he is. He’s got the height, and then he’s got the rawness and the wits to him.
“I still think he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet,” Edsall added. “He’s just going to continue to grow and develop with the more reps that he gets.”
Robinson brings an athletic dimension and new perspective to an experienced but still youthful linebacker corps. The redshirt junior has bulked up to the size of a linebacker, but he’s retained his quickness from the secondary, and he still thinks like a safety sometimes.
He’s able to give advice to other linebackers on what routes opponents are running in case his peers had never seen anything similar before. In addition, he’s studied film with fellow outside linebacker Alex Twine to try to pick up on different tendencies from opposing offenses that might help bridge the gap between their position and the secondary.
“It’s good, especially just communicationwise,” cornerback Dexter McDougle said. “Matt was a DB, so we can communicate with him. He knows what we’re doing, but he also knows what all the linebackers and everybody are doing, so it makes communication a lot better. We play a lot faster, so it’s really good to have him in there, having experience with the DBs.”
Robinson has earned high praise from Edsall because of his flexibility within the defense. When the Terps played nearly exclusively in their dime package — two linemen, three linebackers, six defensive backs — against Old Dominion, Robinson shifted over to the middle of the defense and occasionally spied Monarchs quarterback Taylor Heinicke. The result was eight tackles and two tackles for loss.
“I think because I have a lot of speed, I can come off the edge and run people down,” Robinson said. “I think that’s something that definitely works to my advantage. I think I’m kind of versatile, so you don’t really have to take me off the field to cover certain people.”
Robinson displayed a tackling prowess ever since his time at safety. In the Terps’ first three games of 2011, before he missed the rest of the year with a torn labrum, Robinson totaled 36 tackles. In five games last season, he averaged more than five per game.
But for most of this year, Robinson will line up on the strong side of the defense with pass rushers, such as outside linebackers Marcus Whitfield and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, on the other side.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that that’s the best position for him, and I think he’s got the chance to be an outstanding football player at that position,” Edsall said. “You’re dealing with a young man who’s athletic, who’s long, who’s smart and who is physical.”
The transition to linebacker was new for Robinson, but it was the best way for him to stay on the field and contribute. And after two years battling ailment after ailment, that’s where he wants to be.
“I just didn’t really have any complaints,” Robinson said. “People always are like, ‘Ah, you don’t like it?’ This, that and the third, but I’ve just always taken it with a grain of salt and kept moving forward with it and just trying to get better to help the team.”