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Camp spotlight: Dunta Robinson


Dunta Robinson is the heart of the Texans' secondary.

Dunta Robinson has been a mentor and a hero to Fred Bennett since the two were college teammates at South Carolina.

Now the hero needs a little help.

Robinson was well into his best season as a pro last November when he tore ligaments in his right knee that would have been enough to end his career. He also suffered a detached hamstring on the same play.

He's on the PUP list now, but not yet on the one that will sideline him for six games. Eventually, he may be designated to that list, but in the meantime, he's working feverishly to return for the regular season opener. Bennett is eager to support him.

"I just try to encourage him and keep him in good spirits," Bennett said. "I can't imagine what he went through when it happened. I know he wants to be out here. I joke with him and try to keep a smile on his face and keep him going."

{QUOTE}Robinson appreciates all the encouragement he's received.

"It's been up and down since day one," Robinson said. "You kind of get used to it. One of the things was when I got injured a lot of guys told me what to expect. So, when I came out here and I knew I would feel great one week and then I'd come back and not feel so good.

"It was expected, but things always get better. That's just one thing I had to remember, that there would be a lot of good days, there would be a few bad days."

Bennett is there for the bad days, beginning with the plane ride home after his injury.

"He's a tough dude," Bennett said. "When he did it he was on that plane and he was just sitting there like it wasn't hurting. I said, 'It don't hurt?' It was hurting, but he's got a high tolerance for pain. Seeing him like that hurt me, but he's real tough minded so I know he'll be back."

Until his injury, Robinson had started since the beginning of his rookie season, 57 straight. He was a finalist for the Defensive NFL Rookie of the Year award in 2004 when he had 85 tackles, three sacks, six interceptions, 19 passes defensed and three forced fumbles.

He also obtained a reputation for delivering fierce hits despite his 5-10, 184-pound frame.

"I watched him all through college and I said one day I'm going to hit like that," Bennett said. "Last year I got my chance and I made a couple of nice hits. He's set a high standard for corners. Our coaches expect everyone to hit like him. Every corner is not Dunta Robinson. He has his own style and I have my style."

Back peddling is a key skill for corners. Robinson has been having more trouble moving forward.

"Running forward has been the hardest thing I've had to overcome," he said. "I've struggled to get my motion back at the beginning. It's starting to come back and the knee is finally starting to feel good.

"My back peddling feels fine, my lateral movement is fine. Everything feels normal. It just took running forward longer than I expected."

Robinson has maintained his role as cheerleader from the sidelines. It was tougher last year, after the injury. He attended only one game the rest of the season. It was too difficult to watch.

"It was tough, that's why I only came to one game last year," he said. "I want to support my teammates, but it was hard on me. I'd been on the football field every season since I was seven years old, so to miss a few games, it's rough on me. It gives me the motivation to work even harder."

During the preseason, Robinson has gotten more involved, coaching players on the sidelines and studying harder than ever during team meetings.

"He's a tremendous worker," defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. "He's out there every day, all of hours of the day. He's very focused to get back there to the football team.

"Even in meetings now, he's taking more notes than I have ever seen. He's asking questions about other people's positions, what their responsibilities are. So he is kind of sitting back and getting the broader picture of what everybody does and taking notes and asking questions. He is preparing himself to play."

Robinson gets good feelings from progressing through the stages of recovery.

"Mentally is coming out here and doing it physically," Robinson said. "You wonder if you can do things and you don't realize them until you come out here and actually get them done on the field. The mental part of it is all physical and what you believe you can do physically.

"The first time I came out and went through DB drills I wasn't too sure. I was too timid. The next time was a little better and the next time a little better. Going through the process helped me mentally."

All the defensive players work to keep Robinson cheerful.

"The guys are on my side," Robinson said. "Fred is ready for me to come back. DeMeco (Ryans) is ready for me to come back. Mario (Williams) is ready for me to come back. It feels good when your teammates are for you like that."

Robinson already knows what will tell him he's ready to play. He's even dreamed about it.

"I think every day I come out here and get good work in that's another step closer to being in that situation to line up against Andre Johnson," Robinson said. "That's one of the things I dream about right now.

"I was having one of my best seasons before I got injured last year. I just want to get back on the field so I can prove to people I'm still a great player and I can still come out there and get the job done."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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