Falcons' new DB Dunta Robinson: His corner

The initial report on the Falcons’ latest big buy, cornerback Dunta Robinson, is that he is one tough customer.

That has yet to be revealed on the Flowery Branch practice field. During the team’s current “voluntary” workouts, Robinson is only out there playing patty-cake with the receivers. None of the rough stuff on Robinson’s resume — the tight press coverage, the crackling tackling, the ’tude — is really appropriate in May.

It’s a different story when it comes to real estate agents. He’s just been killing them lately.

“It’s a great time to go house shopping,” said the player whose position, after all, is built upon opportunism.

He has the means. He is, in fact, slopping over in means, leaving the Houston Texans for a six-year, $57 million ($25.5 million guaranteed) free-agent deal with the Falcons. Problem is, people know it, and he is having trouble negotiating the kind of price that suits him in a down market. Relocating to Gwinnett County is taking longer than planned.

Robinson’s guiding rhyme chills any commissioned agent’s blood: “I’m looking for the steal, not the deal.”

Probably just the kind of thinking you want from a player acquired to put the larceny back in the Falcons’ pass defense, ranked 28th in the NFL last season.

Robinson is in no rush to find a place, since he can bunk with his parents in the Oconee County home he built for them. It is about a 45-minute commute to Flowery Branch and nearer than that to the Athens area where he grew up and established a tangle of roots.

If the mesa of money didn’t convince him to sign with the Falcons, if the Arthur Blank recruiting pitch (which came with private jet transportation, plus dinner and a Hawks game) didn’t dazzle Robinson, the simple attraction of moving back to Georgia tipped the deal.

‘Safety mentality’

Here is one of those situations where personal tastes and team needs seemed to come together and sing perfect harmony.

“Just being home, knowing everything around me, being able to go and see people I grew up with, see my mom and dad on a regular basis — it all has been a dream come true,” Robinson said, sitting in the green, green grass of home after a Falcons training session last week.

“I can’t wait to get out on the field and play on Sundays.”

And Falcons fans, fearing the cocked arm of Drew Brees, can’t wait to see what he’s got.

Come that still distant season, Robinson will be expected to remake the character of the Falcons’ secondary. That callow, oft-abused unit badly needs a veteran presence and a guiding personality.

The Falcons paid a premium for a cornerback who reportedly will bring a rare combination of abilities. There is the speed that has survived one severe knee and hamstring injury. And the aggressiveness that always has been there, since the days he was playing 8-year-old football in Athens and, as Robinson’s father recalls, officials at least twice stopped games because his boy was hitting too hard.

Of the difference one man might make, Falcons new secondary coach Tim Lewis said, “Let’s hope better coverage means more sacks and more sacks means more wins.”

A seventh-year veteran, Robinson, in theory, is one of those corners you stick on the other guys’ best receiver and then go on with your life.

“It’s nice having a guy you don’t have to worry about,” Falcons safety Erik Coleman said.

But don’t just call him a cover guy. To Robinson, that is an insult by omission.

“I hear a lot of guys say they’re a cover corner,” he said, “I don’t want that beside my name. I want ‘complete corner’ beside my name. A guy who can play press. A guy who can backpedal. And a guy who can come up and hit like a safety. I think it’s rare in this league that you get a corner who can do every single thing, and I’m trying to work myself up to that.”

“He has a safety mentality with cornerback skills,” said Don Hudson, his position coach at Clarke Central High, now working just down the road at Cedar Shoals.

As Lewis goes to work blending in Robinson, one attribute he won’t have to install is confidence.

Robinson comes from the Texans with the reputation of playing with a swagger, his long dreads flying, his mouth constantly in motion. The idea of standing out was formed well before that, though.

Betty and Willie Robinson like their own names just fine, but, as Dunta’s dad observed, “There are thousands of Willies or Bettys in the world.” So the couple gave their three children names that you’d have to chew on for a while, challenging names, names that anyone hooked on phonics had no shot at pronouncing properly. Then you’d have to remember them.

The first born is a daughter, Shkeida. The last, a rising sophomore running back at Georgia Southern, is Darreion. The middle child is pronounced “DONE-tay” but spelled Dunta.

Tepid recruitment by UGA

The Robinson men are a bit on the smallish side, as far as football goes. In Dunta, now listed at 5-10, 185, but going about 140 in high school, that physical trait only served to make him more determined to be noticed.

“He was always told he was too small to do this or that, and that fired him up,” his father said.

To this day, Dunta still can work up a righteous lather about Georgia backing off its recruitment of him. Growing up in Athens, he wanted nothing more than to be a Bulldog. But the last word he heard from coach Jim Donnan’s staff was a feeler about possibly playing wide receiver.

That’s how a future No. 1 draft pick at cornerback ends up at South Carolina and, Robinson would quip, how some coaches find themselves in broadcasting.

In the 2004 draft, the Falcons took a cornerback with their first pick — eighth overall. He was a unique fellow, that DeAngelo Hall. Two picks later, Robinson went to the Texans.

One of the first moves Thomas Dimitroff made as Falcons GM was to trade the highly flammable Hall to Oakland. Robinson will match himself as a player against Hall or any other DB. But could he ever hope to compare with the former Falcon in outrageousness?

“I’ll see what I got for you,” he laughed.

Last season with the Texans, Robinson had his moments. Holding out in a contract dispute, he was the only franchise player in the NFL not to sign a deal before training camp. Consequently, Robinson missed all of the preseason. The two sides failed to reach a multi-year agreement, settling on a one-year, $9.9 million deal in time for the season opener. Hardly starvation wages. Still, for that first game, Robinson dressed up his shoes with a handwritten message for Houston GM Rick Smith that read, “Pay Me Rick.”

“That marriage was over before the season started,” Robinson said.

In reviewing film of Robinson’s play last season, Lewis said he noticed no drop-off as a result of the strained relationship. Still, last season was the first in his pro career without an interception. Averaging 86 tackles in the previous three seasons in which he played all 16 games, Robinson had 64 last year.

Robinson’s father admitted that the dispute last season weighed on his boy. Conversely, now that all is happiness and light, “You’ll see that old Dunta,” Willie Robinson promised.

How could he not be happy and satisfied these days? Robinson is once more in the company of his close family, near the four-team youth football program he has sponsored for years — the Athens Oilers — and near enough to one of his favorite restaurants, Food for the Soul on Athens’ Broad Street, to almost smell the buffet.

“My mindset is great now. I feel I’m in a place where they want me. They gave me an opportunity. I want to come in here and not let Mr. Dimitroff down, not let Mr. Blank down, not let coach [Mike] Smith down. I want to come in here and be a great football player.”

In that quest, unlike the search for a bargain home, there is no room for negotiation.