Brian Robison stopped on a walk off the practice field at training camp and spent about five minutes going over techniques used on the defensive line.
The object of his teachings in those minutes? Another starter, Sharrif Floyd. The day before, both Everson Griffen and Robison spent extra practice time working with rookie Stephen Weatherly as the other defensive linemen worked on pass-rushing moves. Businessmen talk spreadsheets and deals. Defensive linemen talk hip and hand placement.
For Robison, his love of the game and the knowledge he has gained in his nine completed NFL season are a natural to pass onto teammates.
Any time you come out of college – I’ve been through it, (Griffen) has been through it, we’ve all been through it – you get a little bit of a learning curve,” Robison said. “Really just working with (Weatherly) on simple technique things. It’s not nothing drastic or anything like that. His hip position and where his hands need to be and things like that. It’s just those simple things like that.”
For Robison, it may be simple as he enters his 10th NFL season. For a rookie, it can be overwhelming. There are new techniques to learn, new schemes to digest, new offenses and higher caliber players across from him and next to him.
Robison remembers what it was like to be a rookie. It wasn’t long and he thought he had it down … and then got a dose of reality.
“For me, I got kind of one of those deals where I came out of college and I think it was the first four games I had three sacks and I was like, ‘This is easy.’ And then I think I went like another 10 games without a sack,” he said. “It’s just one of those deals where sometimes everything clicks together and then sometimes it’s not. That’s when you have to become aware of being able to look at yourself, not even on tape, but in the game and realize, ‘You know what? I’m not using my hands the right way or my hips aren’t turned downhill. I’m turning upfield.’”
Reality set in not only during Robison’s rookie season, but he learned patience was needed throughout his early years. He came to a defensive line that found its stride with Pat Williams and Kevin Williams inside and Ray Edwards at end. After Robison’s rookie season, the Vikings traded for Jared Allen and the wait for a full-time starting spot would grow longer.
Robison started five games in his rookie season and none during his second and third regular seasons with Allen on board. It wasn’t until 2011, four years into his career, that Robison had a stranglehold on his left end spot.
“I think we all as young guys come into this league and we think we’ve got it or we come to a point where we think, ‘I’m starting to get this,’ but as time goes, I thought I was ready to start after Year 1. I really did,” he said. “But, looking back on it, I probably wasn’t really ready to be a starter until Year 3 or Year 4. At the time, you think everything is going well for you, but each year you gain experience and you start to learn techniques more and more and you start to look back on years past. It’s like I didn’t know jack crap. It wasn’t even close. It’s just one of those deals where it’s different for everybody, but some people come along faster and some people it takes a little more time.”
That’s one reason he is so willing to help the younger crew. He knows the patience it required for him to become a starter, and he remembers the days he thought he was ready with hindsight proving himself wrong.
Over the years, he has learned the progression. It’s one thing to know all the techniques being taught during practices. It’s another to be able to implement the right one in a split second depending on what the offensive line is doing, if the quarterback is dropping to pass or handing the ball to the running back, and what the running back is doing.
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It’s difficult enough to recall everything on the practice field, measurably more difficult in game conditions.
“A lot of times they get out here and they get so enamored with the plays and remembering what they’re doing with the plays and staying on track with the rush and things like that that they kind of forget other things,” Robison said of the younger defensive linemen. “They forget where their hips need to be or forget where their hands need to be, so a lot of that is just seeing that and then being able to work with those guys and make sure they understand that it all has be in tune and you have to fine-tune that stuff for you to be great in this league.”
For now, Robison is here to help the Vikings’ younger defensive linemen while he holds down the starting spot. Eventually, the younger players will be the ones who think they have it down, but, meanwhile, Robison’s influence will be seen in their progression.