Back-to-Back Sacks Keeps DE in Hunt

While former first-round draft pick Erasmus James prepares to make his preseason debut on Saturday night, fourth-round rookie Brian Robison is trying to build on a two-game sack streak in his bid for regular-season playing time. See what Robison had to say about a number of impressive plays he has made for the Vikings, and what his coaches think about his performance so far.

Just before the Vikings' preseason opener, rookie defensive end Brian Robison told Viking Update his goal was to break the franchise's rookie sack record. It's a mark that has stood since 1985, when former defensive tackle Keith Millard registered 11 sacks.

Sure, it's early and, yes, it's preseason, but Robison has registered a sack in each of his first two preseason games.

The fourth-round draft pick admitted that he hasn't gotten much specific feedback from the coaches about his back-to-back-sack games.

"(The coaches) haven't said much to me, just that I'm doing a great job and to keep it up. I'm sure behind closed doors, they might be talking about it," Robison said.

"I've had back-to-back games with sacks before. Obviously, doing it at the NFL level is a lot more satisfying, but for me it's not about looking back at those two games and being happy with myself. I've just got to keep looking forward and make sure I keep it up."

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier might have been trying to keep the rookie focused on improving during the rest of the preseason when he was hesitant to give out too much praise to Robison's quick start.

"There are some things that he has to work on. He is a young ballplayer who is still a rookie," Frazier said. "He has had some early success. There are some things he has to understand about playing at this level, and Ray (Edwards) and some of the veteran guys will help him in that area. He has shown some flashes, but there is still a lot that he has to do to get better as a football player, and that's what we've got to continue to work with him on."

Ray Edwards and Robison are both fourth-round selections from the last two drafts, and each are making significant cases to become either the starter (Edwards) or a pass-rush specialist (Robison) this season as 2005 first-round draft choice Erasmus James works his way back into playing shape following a torn anterior cruciate ligament that was suffered on Week 2 last year.

Edwards has shown stints of being solid competition for James even when the former first-rounder gets back to full health, but Robison's preseason success has him making a claim for game-day playing time as well. The positive impression started with the first preseason game.

"First of all, he is looking healthy," head coach Brad Childress said of Robison's play after the first preseason game. "He had that little muscle twinge in the back of his leg and his deal is speed, and with that speed the power to be able to come underneath. He plays with very good leverage and a very high motor. He gives Bryant McKinnie fits just because of that leverage, his stature compared to (McKinnie's height) … he gives him trouble with the speed rush and then coming underneath. He's got a nice little package; he's got a nice little wiggle to him."

Without playing a lot of snaps against a first-team left tackle during the preseason, Robison admitted that McKinnie has probably provided him with the best competition he's seen yet in the NFL.

"Really the closest matchup I've had to that is when I went up against D'Brickashaw (Ferguson, the New York Jets' starter) for the first couple of series," Robison said. "McKinnie, he's so big and so strong, and the way he uses his technique with the hands, you have to learn quick when you're going against him because if you don't pick up your game and learn how to do things against NFL players like him, it's going to be a loss every time. If something doesn't work, then you've either got to improve on it or you've just got to let it go and try something else."

That's just what Robison did against the Jets' Adrian Jones, a fourth-round draft choice in 2004 that is a second-string tackle. It was a play in which Robison didn't get backup quarterback Kellen Clemens to the ground, but as Robison was getting blocked behind Clemens, he reached out with both hands and swiped the ball away from the quarterback.

"You've got to have instincts to learn when to do it and when not to do it, but at the same time it's a learned ability too because you've got to know that when you get around a quarterback and you don't have a chance to take him to the ground, then the next thing you've got to do is make sure you ball search," Robison said of that play. "That's what happened – I came around the edge, I saw the ball out there so I just made sure I knocked it out of his hand. Either way it's a sack, but if you get that ball out of his hands, it's a chance for the defense to recover and get the ball back to the offense."

The Jets ended up recovering that fumble, but Robison's biggest play of the game came midway through the third quarter. When backup center Pete Kendall, whose primary responsibility is as a starting guard, snapped the ball over Clemens' head, the race for the loose ball was on between Clemens, Robison and Jayme Mitchell. Clemens got there first and was reaching down to pick up the ball, but Robison shoved him aside, corralled the pigskin and dove for the end zone for the Vikings' final touchdown in a 37-20 win.

Robison said his teammates enjoyed the push he gave to Clemens.

"The guys liked it. He went to pick up the ball and I just tried to push him out of the way and pick up the ball," Robison said. "That's what happened – I took advantage of the opportunity and ended up getting my first NFL touchdown out of it."

It was the first fumble return for a touchdown that Robison has had in his football playing days, although he did have an interception during his sophomore season at the University of Texas.

It was with the Longhorns where Robison was also the NCAA Division I runner-up in the shot put. He also won that title for the Big 12 Conference in 2005 and 2006, holds the school record in the shot put and is third in the discus. They are all skills that he thinks help him in one way or another on the football field.

"It definitely works with my agility, balance, and not only that, my explosiveness coming off the line. To be a shot putter at the level I was, you've got to have explosiveness, you've got to have agility and great balance to stay in the ring," Robison said.

While he says he will miss putting the shot and throwing the discus when the football season ends, right now he's too engaged in a battle for playing time.

"As of right now, it's all football and that's the only thing on my mind," he said.

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