Football carries the old adage of “see the play before it happens.” It’s an instinct, it’s a feel, but often, it’s preparation. No one is born knowing how to read the hat of a guard or the keys of a receiver’s stance or what the offense likes to call on third and medium.
While seventh round pick and linebacker Mark Robinson is new to the position, switching from running back late in his college career, Steelers’ DC Teryl Austin believes it gives him a clear advantage. He knows what the offense is doing because he’s not long removed from being the offense.
Austin briefly spoke about Robinson as captured in a Steelers’ Live video shown on the team’s YouTube channel.
“When you watch him in terms of the run game and getting to runs, he gets to runs,” Austin said in an interview that hasn’t fully been released. “And it’s probably because he knows what they are and where they’re going and the blocking schemes because he’s run behind those for so many years. And that is unique trait.”
Robinson played RB at Presbyterian and Southeast Missouri, leading the former with five rushing scores his freshman season and was second for the latter in rushing yards the following year. He transferred to Ole Miss and despite being a walk-on, was still forced to sit out the 2020 season. Gaining eligibility in 2021 with a switch to linebacker, he racked up 92 tackles, flashing his hard-hitting ability and making most of his plays against the run.
Austin noted Robinson, like most rookie linebackers, will face the steepest learning curve when asked to move backwards.
“Most rookie linebackers, struggle in coverage, with the different types of coverage, the amount of coverages that go on in the NFL. But I do expect that he’ll pick it up and while he’s learning to do all those things, he’ll be a dynamite special teams player for us.”
NFL coverages are much more varied and complex than college’s. Unless you’re at Alabama, you’re playing vanilla man or spot-drop zone. The NFL has much more mixing and matching and movement and adjustments, which in itself will be an adjustment for Robinson.
But as Austin notes, Robinson isn’t expected to excel in those areas to make the team. His path to the roster is through Danny Smith and becoming a special teams demon, similar to the way Tyler Matakevich earned his keep and continued roster spot in the league. Robinson’s path is a crowded one with established veterans like Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, and Ulysees Gilbert III on the roster alongside second-year Buddy Johnson, who will try to make the sophomore leap after a largely invisible rookie campaign.