Brian Robison walked onto a practice field at the University of Minnesota with longer hair, a skinnier body and a fatter contract – all changes from last year.
There are a lot of changes in Robison's life right now – his wife Jayme is expecting a baby at the end of January – but there is one professional opportunity Robison is hoping to grab tightly: becoming the starting left defensive end for the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings are expected to lose Ray Edwards in free agency, and they prepared for that possibility by signing Robison to a three-year, $14.1 million contract before the lockout. The message was clear – be ready to start.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity I'm going to get this year to hopefully earn the starting job. I'm just going to go out there and give it the best I can. If the coaches decided I'm the best guy for that spot, then that's what it will be," Robison said.
So far, Robison has been limited to starts only when Ray Edwards has been injured or suspended. That is likely to change whenever players return to the team facilities or training camp fields. Edwards is expected to sign elsewhere in free agency and Robison is expected to get the starting nod from the coaching staff.
"I think they're confident in what I can do. I think the thing is, I've just got to keep getting better and better and that comes with experience," he said. "It could be one of those things that maybe the first couple preseason games might be something that's a little bit shaky just because I'm not used to having that role. But I'm sure with experience I can be able to fill that role with no problem."
Few who know him question Robison's desire or work ethic. While he is leaner, his weight is still around 265. This offseason, he has been training in Houston and adding several different mixed martial arts disciplines into his workout regimen, including muay thai and jujitsu.
"I think it helps tremendously. Muay thai is definitely one of those things that you've got to have a hell of a cardio to do. The first day I went in there I thought I was going to pass out after a minute's worth of boxing," Robison said. "It definitely got me in shape, but it works on hand quickness, hand-eye coordination, things like that. Definitely hip flexibility when you're doing all the kicks and stuff, and the jujitsu is really just about stamina and endurance strength."
His endurance showed on Thursday when players working out at Larry Fitzgerald's conditioning camp ran 24 110-yard gassers with 40 seconds rest in between. Robison paced himself so that by the end he was among the pack of receivers and quarterbacks.
If he's a starter, he would likely double the amount of snaps he got last year (32 percent), a motivating factor for him to be in the best shape he can before training camp.
"I've always been a guy that works so hard that a lot of times I overwork myself. I think that's why a lot of times I get in camp and I have little hamstring injuries. I think I just kind of push it too far," said Robison, who plans to take a break now if the expectation is that training camp is only a little over a week away. "It's just one of those things, you've got to try to balance it. I'm definitely excited about the opportunity and it's given me a lot more motivation."
He makes no claims about the number of sacks he will have or that a breakout season is coming, but he knows what he needs to prove – the same thing he's hope to have a chance to prove in his first four years, that he can hold up as an every-down player. With his big contract in tow, he's ready for the opportunity.
"I think they definitely made the right choice and I'm hoping I can prove that to them," he said. "It definitely gives you a big boost of confidence that they're willing to put themselves out on the line to sign a guy like that."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Robison ready to seize opportunity
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