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John DeShazier: Saints linebacker Craig Robertson ready to fight off competition again

Robertson: 'Competition is part of the game'

The most productive year of Craig Robertson's NFL career didn't generate unrealistic illusions for the six-year veteran.

There are no "gimmes" in Robertson's world, no times in which the former undrafted player (in 2011) feels as though much is secure, including a starting position. So those career-high 131 tackles last season – the numbers attributed via the New Orleans Saints' film study – in a career-high 15 starts, along with a sack, an interception, two fumbles recoveries and five passes defensed, are a distant memory.

The fight for relevance began anew this offseason, and again has transitioned into to training camp, where Robertson is battling for a starting position again.

"Same thing every year," he said matter-of-factly Thursday following the team's first training camp practice. "You just compete, do what you've got to do as a player. You just find a way to make plays, just keep them talking about you.

"It doesn't matter. In this league, they don't care. It's a new year every year. Statistically, we didn't have a good defense last year so we've got to find a way to revamp so we can be better in 2017. So that's what we're doing."

Indeed, the Saints had a forgettable year statistically in '16. New Orleans was 27th in total defense (375.4 yards allowed per game), last in passing defense (273.8 yards per game) and 31st in points allowed (28.4).

Robertson, though, was a bright spot.

Though signed as a free agent from Cleveland to help solidify the Saints' special teams units, he kept showing up with big play after big play in training camp, ascended to the starting lineup in part due to Dannell Ellerbe's injury, and remained a starter even after Ellerbe returned, moving from "Will" linebacker to "Mike" as he took over the middle from James Laurinaitis.

Still, likely even before the Saints signed free agent linebackers A.J. Klein and Manti Te'o, and drafted linebacker Alex Anzalone, Robertson knew that he again would have to battle in training camp.

"I'm so used to it," he said. "You just come out, you play football. Football is fun, you've got to find a way to enjoy it. Competition is part of the game. If you didn't have competition I doubt that you're going to have a good team.

"It helps everyone as a whole. The good teams have good depth. You've got someone pushing them every day, every week, every month so there's something you can improve on. You've got somebody behind you that you know can play, it's going to help make you do that extra study and do that extra stuff in the weight room just so you can make sure you keep that edge."

Robertson's edge isn't just that he's a good player (he has posted at least 85 tackles in four of his five seasons, and never has had fewer than three passes defensed in a season). It's that he also is versatile, able to play every linebacker positon for the Saints.

He was back in the middle Thursday at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, but likely will be shifted around as New Orleans seeks to find its best combination.

Photos from Day 1 of 2017 Saints Training Camp Presented by Verizon at Ochsner Sports Performance Center.

"I've been doing that my whole career, so I'm used to it now," Robertson said. "In this league, in this business, you've got to be able to play multiple spots. You can't be a one-trick pony."

Can't be one-trick, can't have thin skin, can't have unrealistic illusions.

Robertson checks all the boxes. That made him vital to the Saints in '16, and it could make him just as valuable this season.

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