After flashing in the preseason with highlight plays, the hype train on Pittsburgh Steelers’ seventh-round pick Ole Miss inside linebacker Mark Robinson is taking off. The team’s long-time star defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, who has seen Robinson’s play first-hand in training camp, shares his thoughts on his progress.
“He’s still pretty raw,” Heyward described the rookie’s play on his ESPN podcast Not Just Football on Wednesday. “I think he’s still got a lot of upside that he’s got to accomplish. But a guy like that who competes, works his tail off, plays with energy, it’s light, and a lot of people notice. It doesn’t go by the wayside. But what can he do with that? Can he continue to be a three-down player? Can he be a guy who can cover? We know he can hit and come down on the run game, but in this game, you have to be able to cover tight ends. You have to be able to hold your own against the what we call the “three” receiver, which can be a running back, tight end, or wide receiver. So we’ll see, time will tell.”
When Robinson’s name is mentioned, it’s hard not to think back to the team’s former linebacker Vince Williams, a 2013 seventh-round pick that went on to have an eight-year career with the team. Given Robinson is making a name for himself with signature hits, Williams is an accurate comparison for more reasons than one. Williams made a career out of being a relentless pass-rusher and run defender, both of which are facets that Robinson has shown flashes in. Williams’ career arc and play style were also unusual, as he led off-ball linebackers in sacks. In Robinson’s current trajectory, it’s easy to imagine him emulating this.
Robinson, who played running back as recently as the 2020 season, came into this preseason with a tall task. That is, Robinson’s path to the 53-man roster, which is hard enough as a late-round pick, will have to see him take the spot of one of Buddy Johnson and Marcus Allen, the former being a 2021 fourth-round pick and the latter being with the team for five years.
Heyward’s comments accurately describe what to make of Robinson’s flashes. The fact is, Robinson is surpassing any and all reasonable expectations for a linebacker entering his second year playing the position. Moreover, off-ball linebackers, especially younger ones, have a big learning curve in pass coverage regardless of where they’re picked. If we were to put blinders on and pretend that Robinson was picked higher, his play thus far arguably more than merits a roster spot.
The linebacker position requires fundamental instincts and athleticism that cannot be taught, which Robinson has arguably proven that he possesses. The fact that his play against the pass is not perfect only makes sense, and it is something that the 23-year-old will have plenty of time to work on. As of now, it is easy to imagine Robinson starting out as a rotational linebacker with special teams snaps, and going on to have a similar career arc as Williams.
In fact, Williams recently took to Twitter to proclaim that Robinson is better than he was as a rookie. However, it is indeed still early, and it’s possible that Robinson may need to show a bit more this Sunday against the Detroit Lions to cement his roster spot. As Heyward said, time will tell. If one thing is for sure, however, it’s that Robinson’s progress speaks volumes about his work ethic, and it’s easy to be excited as a Steelers fan.