When one door closes, another one opens. Lately, Mark Robinson’s life has looked like Old Western saloon doors, swinging closed and open over and over again.
For the next two weeks of the season, it looks like they’re open again. Marcus Allen appears to have undergone surgery on his bicep with an IR stint feeling inevitable. That clears the path for Robinson to receive a helmet to finish the season out.
Assuming he’s active for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, it’ll be the fourth time he’s gotten a helmet all season. After seeing just special teams action against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and zero snaps anywhere against the Indianapolis Colts, Robinson finally logged time against the Carolina Panthers. He picked up seven extremely situational defensive snaps, playing in the Steelers’ 4-4 defense with four down defensive linemen and four linebackers, Robinson next to Robert Spillane and replacing Devin Bush on all of them (which sorta tells you what the Steelers think about Bush’s run defense, conceding snaps to a rookie). He played as expected. Downhill, physical, full of energy.
Those are traits that could come in handy against the Ravens’ run-heavy approach, a team who racked up 215 yards against the Steelers two weeks ago. Baltimore doesn’t typically go quite as heavy as the Panthers, more tight ends than extra offensive linemen, but if Pittsburgh wants to change things up to avoid the same result – that’d sure be smart – getting Robinson involved is a logical option.
Now out of the entire fanbase, I’ve been clamoring about playing Robinson the least. He wasn’t going to solve all the Steelers’ problems when they struggled and he’s a rookie still learning the position. There’s so much he doesn’t know, especially when it comes to coverage nuances. Patience is a virtue with a guy like him. But as we’ve noted since the summer, Robinson has a foundational level of traits this team needs. His intensity, physicality, his demeanor and run defense. The dude lives for contact and has the hit power to dish it out.
His game still needs a ton of work. He’s never going to be top-tier in coverage, comparable to Vince Williams both against the run and pass, and frankly, he needs to show more on special teams too. That’s how you normally climb the ladder and his traits should make him a more effective special teamer than he displayed throughout the summer. I imagine his lack of experience there, probably not getting much burn as a RB in college and serving as a starter his final year at Ole Miss, is one of the many adjustments he’s facing in the NFL game.
With at least two more games, and hopefully more, Robinson should have enough tape and experience to make a sophomore leap. To have reps, to make mistakes, to not still feel quite like a rookie to start next season. Year One to Year Two always brings more comfort but guys who get reps versus ones who don’t make a difference. There won’t be the “firsts” of next year. First game dressing, first game playing, first defensive snaps. That’s all out of the way and a sense of the Steelers/Ravens rivalry this weekend would be another box to check.
Come next summer at St. Vincent, Robinson could be in the mix for a starting job or at the least, a Robert Spillane rotational role. Devin Bush, Marcus Allen, and Spillane himself are slated to be free agents while I don’t even know if Myles Jack’s job is 100% secure meaning there could be serious lanes and opportunity opening for Robinson. It makes what he does the next two games, auditioning for GMs Omar Khan and Andy Weidl, all the more important.