When Trent Baalke said last month that he hoped seventh-round pick Cam Johnson would arrive with a chip on his shoulder, the message likely was aimed not at the reporters in the room but at Johnson. The outside linebacker is known to be a bit detached and dispassionate, and Baalke already may have been trying to light the proverbial fire beneath him.
That's not an issue for Trenton Robinson, who is at a full boil as soon as he wakes. I recently asked Robinson whether he arrives in the NFL with a chip on his shoulder. Before I could get the question out, a smile formed on his face. "I don't want to go into it too deep as far as how I feel," he said. "But I do have a chip on my shoulder, and I'll be ready to go."
There are a lot of things contributing to Robinson's chip. For one, he fell to the sixth round despite being a team captain and a first-team All-Big 10 selection in 2011. He's also small - 5-9, 193 pounds - and his stature always has been questioned.
Robinson says he plays as if he's 6-10: "It's in me," he said. "Off the field I'm fun and all that stuff. But on the field, you've got to have another guy. You can't be out on the field being nice. It's a rough, physical game. And I know that and I love that. ... Just nasty. You've got to be out there, you've got to hit and do all the stuff you can't do when you're walking around."
After the draft, Baalke noted that Robinson was a special teams standout his first two years at Michigan State and that that likely would be his role early on with the 49ers. But as was discussed Wednesday, Dashon Goldson's future with the team is not set in stone, and the 49ers eventually could need other options at free safety.
C.J. Spillman currently is filling in at the position. An excellent tackler, he may be best suited for strong safety. Robinson, like Goldson, is a former cornerback, and the NFL trend these days is to select safeties who can cover receivers almost as well as cornerbacks.
"The old box safety that you used to hear about, the guy that would invert down and play the run, the way the offense is playing now, they've kind of made that guy a dinosaur in today's game," Baalke said. "If he's on the field, he's easy to find. And what you want to do is create a balanced attack defensively so you don't have to get into all these sub-packages and change personnel. Because when you've got someone out there an offense can attack, if they've got the ability to do that with their base package guys like we do a little bit, it makes it hard to defend."
Baalke has not had very many draft misses, but one notable error came with the second-round selection of Taylor Mays in 2010. (Yes, Mike Singletary may have pushed for the pick, but Baalke bears responsibility, too). Mays had tremendous size, but his lack of fluidity made him a liability in pass coverage. Robinson appears to be Mays' polar opposite.
-- Matt Barrows