School of hard knocks

BOURBONNAIS -- Bryan Robinson doesn't act like a guy fighting for a job. If you watch him at training camp, he's anything but worried about his immediate future. The veteran Bears defensive tackle has taken two young rookies under his wing, and shown another side of pro football you usually don't see.

Sure, it's a business, but Robinson is a team player in the truest sense.

Rookie defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson were the team's top two picks in this year's draft. Robinson, 30, knows he's not getting any younger, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming a mentor for Harris and Johnson -- guys who are in camp trying to take his job.

Robinson, who has made 23 consecutive starts over the last two years in Chicago, knows that streak is in jeopardy. The "young guns" the Bears brought in weren't drafted to stand and watch. Harris and Johnson want a starting job just as bad as B-Rob. But instead of turning his cheek on the competition, the former undrafted rookie free agent is lending a helping hand.

"It seemed like the veterans always gave me the wrong information," shortly after the '04 draft Robinson recalled his experiences with the Rams in 1997. "If I was supposed to go left, the (veterans) told me to go right, things like that. I can't say who did it, but I was on the line with Leslie O'Neal, D'Marco Farr, Kevin Carter, so to them it was kind of funny.

"But it just made me feel if ever I got into that position it's not a way to treat a young guy."

Robinson, the elder statesman of the defense, is heading into his seventh year in the league. He's the only member of the unit that has played for Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron and now Lovie Smith.

Robinson's currently running with the first-team defense at tackle with Alfonso Boone, but Harris and Johnson are pushing both of them. Robinson's signed through the 2006 season, but it's highly unlikely he'll be around that long.

"For me, I think it's going to revive my career," Robinson said of the competition. "We have a young energy. I'm the oldest guy by far on the defense, and I just feel really good because I see the guys joking and laughing and they're running and that makes me want to get my big butt out there and do it, too."

Robinson has embraced the mentor role with his new pupils. Almost daily after practice, the trio of Robinson, Harris and Johnson are together. Robinson has even stepped in politely to stop the media from talking to the two rookies at times when he's got something to show them or talk about. In other words, school's in session around the clock.

"They're going to be good players in the league for a long time and they're showing flashes, more flashes each day," Smith said of the rookie DTs.

Since signing a five-year contract worth $20 at the end of the 2001 season, Robinson hasn't lived up to expectations. He's been moved from defensive end to defensive tackle, and he's had off-the-field issues on several occasions. But he's also taken a pay cut to $1.45 million this season, showing his desire to help the team, and especially a pair of younger teammates.

"I particularly appreciate the efforts of Bryan Robinson," said Harris, the Bears' first-round pick. "He is explaining the schemes and helping me translate what I learned in college ball and converting this to the professional level."

While Robinson remains a role model for Harris and Johnson, the duo have a yin and yang relationship.

"Tommie and I, we lean on each other a lot," Johnson said. "He brings me up and I do the same for him. I think we make the perfect combination as far as two interior linemen.

"We're like night and day. Tommie's a low key, smile and smirk, and I'm just an out loud, laughing type of person. It works for the best because he evens me out and I even him out and we end up a good tandem."

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