By Matthew Marczi
Last year during the preseason games, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin described then-rookie undrafted free agent outside linebacker Adrian Robinson as a “one-trick pony”. Of course, it is usually a good sign when Tomlin even mentions a rookie, and a criticism such as that often means that he sees signs of a good football player in him.
The question that Robinson must answer during this preseason is whether or not he can be more than a one-trick pony—if indeed that is what he was last year.
Robinson became a talking point of training camp early on among the reporters who attended practices due to his supposed prowess as a pass rusher, but the first time the fans got an opportunity to see what he could do was the first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Although he only played limited snaps behind LaMarr Woodley, Brandon Johnson, and Stevenson Sylvester, he was able to generate a lot of pressure during his three drives in the fourth quarter. Coming in with about 13 and a half minutes to play, Robinson forced quarterback Trent Edwards to scramble up into the pocket on his second play, even though the pass was completed.
Later, he generated two more hurries in a three-play span, forcing throwaways, and later registered a hit on the quarterback. Belying his head coach’s moniker, he also helped stuff one running play behind the line of scrimmage and dropped back in pass coverage a handful of times without appearing lost. He even managed to take one snap in pass rushing from the defensive right side, and navigated his was through a couple of stunt blitzes inside.
Despite that opening performance, Tomlin was noted as saying that he was a one-trick pony by announcers’ booth during the second half of the following preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts; that one trick is, of course, pass rushing.
Maybe it was because he had a tendency to revert to a two-hand stance more often than not, and seemed uncomfortable standing up or with one hand in the dirt. Maybe they just had not seen enough in practices to consider him a complete linebacker, even if not all of his skills were finely honed.
Never the less, Robinson saw playing time earlier in that second game; in fact, he started the second half. In the first game, he did show some awareness of the passing lanes, knowing to jump if he knew he would not reach the quarterback. It paid off on the first play of the second defensive drive of the half, as Robinson was able to get up into Drew Stanton’s trajectory and bat down a pass intended for an otherwise wide open receiver.
The very next play, he forced Stanton to step into the pocket, then helped flush him out of the pocket to his right before throwing the ball away on the play after. Later, near the goal line, he was in position to stop a completed pass at the one-yard line and then helped prevent a rushing attempt from going anywhere. He did not make those plays himself, but would have been able to if one of his teammates did not.
Midway through the fourth quarter, he was able to blow up a running play in the backfield for a four-yard loss—of course, both the right tackle and the second back failed to block him on the play.
Indeed, all was not perfect for Robinson. He was able to be pushed back on a number of running plays. Other times, he found himself on the ground during an attempted pass rush, including one instance that helped allow a first down on third and 20.
While he was able to make a handful of nice plays against typically low level competition, there is no denying that the Adrian Robinson that played during the 2012 preseason was not a complete linebacker, and that perhaps the one-trick pony moniker was fair.
After all, he had just three tackles and a batted pass during the preseason. While he registered a number of hurries and a hit or two on the quarterback, he never did bring one home. He showed the willingness and the potential to make plays in the running game and in coverage, but he certainly had work to do.
Now is when we will start to see if that work has been put in, and what results from that work. According to Jim Wexell, the focus of Robinson’s offseason this year was, in his own words, “coverage, and coverage, and coverage”.
Wexell’s chat also revealed ‘Zilla’s desire “find a niche on special teams”—‘Zilla, as in Godzilla, has become sort of a nickname for him. He will need to be Godzilla on special teams this year to earn a hat on game day, but the fact that he said it himself shows his willingness and his understanding of the importance of special teams play.
Robinson logged 101 snaps all told on special teams in 2012, which included being inactive for four games. Early in the season—when active—he only logged three to five snaps. However, as the season progressed, he began logging 13 and 17 snaps on special teams.
Yet he did not managed to record any special teams tackles, and he drew a penalty in week seven. While his increased snaps near the end of the season (22% of all special teams snaps on the year) was a positive sign, it is clear that he still needs to hone his craft as far as special teams goes.
Earlier in the offseason, Tomlin switched Robinson from the left side to the right side. Is that an indication that he’s shown that he has a few more tricks in his bag? It will be interesting to see if anybody asks the head coach about the one-trick pony moniker for Robinson during training camp and whether he feels that Robinson has become a more well-rounded player, as the media asked Tomlin about Mike Wallace’s being labeled as such over the years as well.