SUWANEE, Ga. -- Eugene Robinson is facing a different kind of preseason than the high profile ones surrounding the Green Bay Packers, and he's enjoying the low-key approach he's finding with the Atlanta Falcons.
"My first choice was to go back to Green Bay," Robinson said Thursday. "I had offers to do television as well, but then Atlanta called offering a two-year contract. They wanted me to come here and solidify the secondary."
For Robinson, the Packers' second-leading tackler last year, the challenge of starting over at the age of 35 is welcomed. When Green Bay was unwilling to offer more than a one-year deal, the 6-foot-1, 197-pound free safety decided to relocate.
The Falcons were thrilled to acquire Robinson, who spent 11 seasons in Seattle before helping the Packers become Super Bowl champions in 1996. Robinson comes to Atlanta as the NFL's career active leader in interceptions with 49.
He also brings leadership and experience to a unit that made improvements last year after struggling throughout the three-year term of former coach June Jones.
"I didn't admire him, I hated him," Falcons coach Dan Reeves joked Thursday. "I was used to him giving us a hard time. But seriously, for us he brings a work ethic that rubs off on everybody. He knows how to win a Super Bowl. He knows what's important."
Reeves and defensive coordinator Rich Brooks have methodically re-built a secondary that set an NFL record in 1995 for the most passing yards allowed in a season (4,541). The free-agent additions last year of left cornerback Ray Buchanan, who had five interceptions and broke up 15 passes, right cornerback Ronnie Bradford (four interceptions, 14 passes broken up) and strong safety William White (career-high 119 tackles) were the first step.
This year, the Falcons signed Robinson and free-agent cornerback Randy Fuller, who spent the last three years as a back-up in Pittsburgh -- all of which makes the competition more lively in training camp.
Devin Bush, a two-year starter and the Falcons' No. 1 draft pick in 1995, is currently fighting White for the starting job at strong safety. Bush moved to free safety last year and had a career high of 105 tackles.
"I've never been in this position before," said Bush, who became a starter at Florida State as a sophomore and never lost his job. "Once I've become a starter, I've always been a starter.
"I'm not excited about it but I have to endure the situation and use it as a learning experience."
For Brooks, the first defensive coordinator in five years to return for a second straight season in Atlanta, the atmosphere is lively and encouraging.
"I would hope we could build on what we started last year," Brooks said. "Our goal has been to bring respectability back to the Falcon defense. We still want to improve our numbers of sacks and interceptions."
The Falcons also hope the strong play of Buchanan and Bradford will push cornerback Michael Booker, the 1997 No. 1 pick from Nebraska who has yet to live up to expectations.
"There weren't that many distinctive players at defensive back when I got here," Buchanan said. "We're still looking for Michael Booker to step up and be consistent."
The addition of Robinson excites Buchanan. A five-year veteran out of Louisville, Buchanan had a taste of winning with Indianapolis in 1996. After watching Robinson last year make critical interceptions in both the NFC Championship Game and in the Super Bowl, Buchanan wants another shot at the postseason.
"Eugene brings a loose feel to the secondary," Buchanan said. "He's the quarterback in the backfield. Not to say that Will White isn't. But Gene has been to the Super Bowl twice. He knows you only have so many opportunities."
According to Reeves, neither Bradford, who has an injured right hamstring, nor Fuller, who is nursing a sprained right ankle, will accompany the team to its scrimmage in Jacksonville Saturday.
Booker will start at right cornerback in Bradford's spot. Juran Bolden, a fourth-round draft choice from 1996, is playing behind Buchanan at left cornerback. Marcus Wimberly, a fifth-round pick from '97, is listed behind Robinson on the depth chart.
The three rookie defensive backs fighting for jobs are safety Omar Brown, a fourth-round draft pick from North Carolina, cornerback Elijah Williams, a sixth-round selection from Florida, and strong safety Brad Trout, a walk-on from Valdosta State.
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