Rashard Robinson was discussing the state of the 49ers cornerbacks corps Wednesday when he referred to himself as “the older guy in the room.”
Older guy? Really? Robinson was a rookie last year who’s only been able to legally drink alcohol for a year.
But as he noted, there’s been plenty of turnover at the position he plays. One of the cornerback starters from last season, Jimmie Ward, is lining up at free safety this year. Another, Tramaine Brock, was arrested on domestic abuse charges in April and promptly dismissed by the team.
That’s left Robinson as the only cornerback who had meaningful snaps at outside cornerback for the 49ers last year, and he appears to have a lock on one of the starting roles.
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“He’s a dog. I like him,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of Robinson. “He’s made of the right stuff. His attitude, his mindset is unique for a corner.”
What Saleh meant by “dog” was on display earlier in practice when Robinson knocked a short pass away from veteran receiver Pierre Garcon. The play occurred during a spring OTA session with no contact and little at stake. But Robinson was whooping and strutting after the incompletion as if it had snuffed out a drive at the end of a playoff game.
“For every defensive player, to me, that mindset of taking it personal every single snap, to just have an edge to you,” Saleh said. “Defense is an emotional part of the football game and to have that mindset, is it a prerequisite? It’s not. But you always find the ones that have got that dog in them. They manage to find a way to get it done.”
There also has been plenty of turnover on the 49ers coaching staff.
One of the few assistants retained from Chip Kelly’s staff was secondary coach Jeff Hafley. On a defense that was the NFL’s worst last season, Halfley’s secondary was at least respectable, ranking 14th in passing yards allowed.
One of Hafley’s accomplishments was Robinson, a fourth-round pick last season who weighed just 171 pounds going into his rookie season. Robinson started six games, learning the press-style system that largely remains intact this year and now is up to 190 pounds.
“He’s worked a lot on his fundamentals. I think he’s gotten stronger,” Hafley said. “Besides that, it’s the same attitude, the same mindset, the same Rashard.”
One of Hafley’s challenges is finding someone to start opposite Robinson, who has been playing right cornerback. Dontae Johnson has been taking most of the repetitions on the left with the first-team defense, although Keith Reaser was worked into the first group at times on Wednesday.
Third-round draft pick Ahkello Witherspoon, who has been playing right cornerback with the second-team defense, is another option. Witherspoon has said he is focusing on becoming a better tackler, but Hafley said he’s had no issues in that area.
“I loved him on tape,” Hafley said. “And maybe some people knocked (him for) not being aggressive enough and maybe he wasn’t on some plays. But he showed me he could (be an aggressive tackler) on tape. So if I see a guy who can do it and who’s willing to do it, then it’s our job to make sure he does it all the time.”