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Mark Robinson’s switch to linebacker wasn’t the plan, but has paid huge dividends

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 7th Round pick is still learning the ropes as a linebacker, but he found his way to the NFL despite experience.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers Rookie Minicamp Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When an NFL team makes a player one of their two 7th Round selections, it isn’t necessarily a huge boost of confidence in the player. However, and something BTSC’s Dave Schofield says every year, is how a 7th Round selection is essentially an Undrafted Rookie Free Agent (UDFA) a team doesn’t want to have to out-bid another team for their services.

Either way, the Pittsburgh Steelers spent their first of two 7th Round picks on Ole Miss linebacker Mark Robinson. If you follow the team closely, you’ve already heard Robinson’s story.

As a freshman he attended Presbyterian, a Division I FCS school, as a running back, then Presbyterian eliminated football scholarships after the season. This decision saw Robinson transfer to Southeast Missouri, another FCS school. When Southeast Missouri canceled their season due to COVID-19, Robinson decided to join a former teammate at Ole Miss as a walk-on running back. Instead, he got to play scout-team linebacker.

As some would say, the rest is history.

What was the switch from running back to linebacker like for Robinson?

“Life changing,” Robinson called the decision to move to linebacker. “Best decision I ever made.”

While some fans might see Robinson being drafted as something the former ball carrier would have just taken in stride. However, Robinson admits he fought the decision to move to defense for a while.

“They were asking me for about a month,” he said. “I kept deferring. Every day they kept asking, and I got tired of hearing it. I wouldn’t say they wore me down, but they gave me something to think about.”

Since going to the defensive side of the ball, he brought a physicality with him which caught the Steelers’ eyes. Some compare Robinson’s raw, and often times angry, demeanor on the field to James Harrison. Those comparisons might be a bit premature, but his tackling was one of the reasons the Steelers picked Robinson.

“He has a real explosive tackling demeanor about him,” general manager Kevin Colbert said after the 2022 NFL Draft concluded.

In hindsight, Robinson credits his coaches at Ole Miss for his successes and getting drafted into the NFL.

“It’s a blessing that I had some good coaches that saw something in me,” Robinson told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I took a leap of faith, it worked out and I’m here today.”

The move to defense hasn’t, and won’t, be smooth all the time. In fact, Robinson knows he has plenty to work on before he can even consider being anything other than a special teams player for the Steelers. What does he need to work on the most?

“Play recognition was the hardest part,” Robinson said. “On offense, it’s one call, but on defense, the play changes every time one person moves. What came easily was my effort, my work to my will. That’s what I bet on and that’s just my game, so I’m going to continue to play that way and add more to the toolbox, and we’re just going to keep getting better.”

As a late round selection, the Steelers don’t have to rely on Robinson for anything this season. If he can be a contributor on special teams it would be considered a successful season. If he is able to eventually turn into a starting linebacker, now that is a story which would rank among the other Steelers who turned a late round pick into a starter. Those names would include: Brett Keisel (7th Round), Antonio Brown (6th Round), Vince Williams (6th Round) and Kelvin Beachum (7th Round).

Let’s hope Robinson is able to join that aforementioned list at some point in his career with the Steelers.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the start of Phase 3 of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp.