It happens every year. I admit I become enamored with a late round or undrafted linebacker project during post-draft evaluations, and they become my early favorite for the coveted Isaac Redman Award. Guys like Tuzar Skipper, Ulysses Gilbert III, and Jamir Jones immediately come to mind.
First, I must clarify what everyone familiar with my articles or podcasts already knows: I love linebackers. I find the physicality and mentality of the position intriguing and incredibly interesting.
The lead inside linebacker is the quarterback of the defense; controlling the huddle, calling out the formations, making sure the front seven are in position. It's not just about brute force and blunt trauma, it's also a thinking man's position. The great ones always have the complete package: physicality, athleticism, aggressiveness, intelligence, and instincts.
One often overlooked aspect of the aforementioned athleticism is their mobility, specifically their contact balance.
It is common knowledge that Robinson, a well traveled, recently converted running back, is an incredibly raw prospect. He only played one season as an inside linebacker in his collegiate career, but what a season it was. We must keep in mind that he made the position switch successfully in the SEC, the best conference in college football.
Robinson competed against future NFL talent on a weekly basis, guys who were 4 and 5 star prospects coming out of high school, with the majority definitely not making a similar position switch. Incredibly, considering his lack of experience and the level of competition, he more than held his own. He seemingly improved by the week, culminating with him becoming a real impact player for the Rebels, who finished their 10-3 season with a loss in the Sugar Bowl.
Early in the season, Robinson needed plenty of assistance and instruction from the sideline. However, he appeared to become gradually more comfortable as the season progressed. His aggressive mindset and physicality increased right along with it. In the process, he began to display multiple traits he utilized as a former running back that transitioned extremely well to the inside linebacker position. Vision, mobility, and contact balance to name a few.
The contact balance is the ability that immediately stands out to me watching film on Robinson. Contact balance is most commonly referenced when discussing a running back’s ability to absorb contact, but remain upright and moving forward. Unbeknownst to many, this ability to engage and disengage is necessary at inside linebacker as well.
Few linebackers can square up with a blocker, especially an offensive lineman, where they are often at a substantial weight disadvantage of 80 lbs. or more, and still consistently disengage for the tackle attempt.
The ability to deflect the full force of the block, whether it be via a slight shoulder turn, dip, or bend, allows the defender to stay upright and proceed forward. The same ability that allows many running backs to bounce off initial contact and gain extra yardage, also assists inside linebackers in their pursuit of the ball carrier.
Robinson demonstrated this ability early and often in his lone season playing inside linebacker. He aggressively attacked the line of scrimmage, effectively filling running lanes. What he lacked in experience, especially in pass coverage, he made up for with his run defense.
Robinson insists on delivering the blow rather than absorbing the impact whenever possible. This allows him to play downhill, attacking defense. That is a important quality befitting a Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker. Something that was definitely missing at the position in 2021.
While I fully realize Mark Robinson was a seventh round selection for a reason, and has to be viewed as a long-term project, his potential at the position is impossible to ignore. It literally jumps off the screen. Maybe I should say it bounces off and keeps going.