"He's much more quiet (than Hamilton)," a smiling Strahan said. "But he ain't that quiet. He's fooling you guys. He tries to look all sweet, with those brown eyes, on TV."
Strahan then imitated a typical Robbins response to a reporter, in his best Barry White voice.
"It's no big thing. I just went out there and prepared hard this week," Strahan said. "Who does he think he's fooling? I know the real Fred Robbins."
Perhaps, however, none of us knows the real Robbins, or the defensive tackle inside him he has decided to unleash, anyway.
Once Hamilton announced that he would retire following an often-tremendous, 12-year career, the Giants brought Robbins, a former Minnesota Viking, here to primarily help them stuff the run. In fact, even with William Joseph developing slowly, the day they signed Robbins to a six-year, $20 million contract, Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi said Robbins would be part of a "tackle rotation" within Tim Lewis' defensive scheme. But the 6-4, 325-pound import hasn't just served as the huge hole-clogger they thought they were getting.
Though it is easy to go unnoticed when aligning next to the Man Mountain otherwise known as Norman Hand, a 10-year veteran very generously listed 310 pounds, Robbins has attracted attention already. In his first three games as a Giant, Robbins has displayed athleticism similar to the kind that made Hamilton almost as much of a force as a pass-rusher as he was when teams tried to run against the Giants. Robbins' performance in the Giants' 20-14 victory over Washington on Sept. 19 alerted anyone who wasn't aware of him that he intends to make an immediate impact with his new team. Robbins' tip near the line of scrimmage, interception of a Mark Brunell pass and 13-yard return was highlight-reel material. The former Wake Forest standout also recorded two sacks and forced a Brunell fumble in the game to set the tone for a much more opportunistic Giants defense, one that forced seven turnovers.
The impressive performance made Robbins forget all about the day 3½ years earlier, when he was an inactive rookie, watching helplessly as the streaking Giants mercilessly mauled Minnesota during an embarrassing NFC Championship Game.
"It always feels good when you make big plays to get your teammates excited, to get the fans excited," Robbins said. "It's always good when you're coming in as the new face in town and you make plays. People want to see that. That's what it's all about. Any time you can go out there, make big plays and people can get a feel for who you are, that's a plus."
The 27-year-old Robbins was a solid contributor during four seasons with Minnesota, but never necessarily the complement they sought to their versatile defensive tackle, Chris Hovan. Kevin Williams, a rookie who started 2003 as a defensive end, replaced Robbins as the Vikings' starting nose tackle late last season and they weren't especially interested in having Robbins return, certainly not at the price paid by the Giants. The Vikings viewed Robbins as an adequate player, but his desire was questioned there because his production wasn't commensurate with his physical capabilities. Thus the Vikings allowed the Giants to sign him when he became an unrestricted free agent six months ago. Mike Tice instead signed journeyman run-stuffer Steve Martin to a two-year, salary cap-friendly deal, for far less money than the Giants gave Robbins.
The Pensacola, Fla., native started the first 12 games of 2003 for the Vikings, who selected him in the second round of the 2000 NFL Draft, but he was demoted for the final four games of the season. Robbins recorded 30 tackles in those 16 games, but only had half-a-sack and five tackles for losses throughout the year. Comparatively, Robbins registered three solo tackles in the Giants' season-opening loss at Philadelphia, each of which limited an Eagles ball-carrier to either no gain on a play or a loss of yardage.
"He's big, strong and athletic," Strahan said. "I think he illustrated that (against Washington). I think if Fred plays at that level throughout the season, he'll be known as one of the best defensive tackles in the league, probably to ever play, if he can do that every week.
"It's just good to know that, being on the outside, that you have someone on the inside that can be disruptive and create havoc and make plays. I think that's why we brought him and Norman Hand in, because that's what they can do."
Left guard Jason Whittle, who most often faces Robbins in practice, noticed those traits immediately after the Giants re-acquired him from Tampa Bay in an Aug. 31 trade.
"Fred's a hard worker," Whittle said. "He's not one of those guys that talks a lot of trash or stuff like that. He lets his play talk for him. I've got a lot of respect for him, I do. I haven't been here that long, but from what I've seen, he's a hard-working guy who's got a lot of talent. He's done a great job for us. He does everything well. He plays the run well, he's got some good pass-rush moves. He's playing with a good motor this year and he's just an all-around good defensive lineman."
As well as he has played in this first month of the season, though, Robbins believes we should expect even better play from him and the rest of the Giants' defensive front as the season proceeds.
"I think we can be real good, once we get a feel for playing with each other in the games and in practice," Robbins said. "I'm feeling good. I've got a great feel for the defensive scheme. I'm getting better at it day-in and day-out. If you keep repping things, you get good at it."
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