Greg Robinson's personal history is both heartbreaking and endearing. His amateur career on the other hand is much more positive all around.
Robinson headed to Auburn out of Thibodaux (Cajuns need the 'e'; Creoles don't), Louisiana, a quiet town about an hour southwest of New Orleans. Scouts, Inc. listed him as the 10th best offensive guard in the country while Rivals had him at #2. After joining the Tigers following their national championship-capped 2010 season, Robinson put in a three-year effort that saw him drafted by the Rams second overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.
So to fill in the gaps on his college career, I linked up with WarRoomEagle from College and Magnolia, the SB Nation community for Auburn fans.
Simple, but open-ended question. Greg Robinson joins Cam Newton, Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams as top 5 picks from the past decade. You have to go back to the Aundray Bruce/Brent Fullwood/Bo Jackson trio to match a run like that which is pretty impressive. What makes GRob so special?
First of all, Robinson’s combination of size and speed separate him from most other human beings. He is 6’5" and 320 pounds, runs a 4.92 second 40-yard dash, and is remarkably agile at that size. With those physical attributes, he was one of the most dominant run blockers in college football in 2013. The Auburn Tigers led the FBS with 328 rushing yards per game. Robinson contributed by blocking not only defensive ends and tackles, but linebackers and even safeties in the open field. One of my favorite plays of his is this pancake of a safety in this GIF. So he’s tough enough to dominate players in the trenches and agile enough to clobber guys down field.
A lot of the concern regarding Robinson was the lack of playing time, the lack of being "NFL ready." How would you react to that? Is that a legitimate concern as a RS Soph or did he show enough during his time with you guys to put that to bed?
Playing time might be a legitimate concern. He only started playing football as an offensive lineman during his junior year of high school and, possibly because he was still relatively new to the position, he redshirted his first year at Auburn. So his collegiate career is made up of 25 games from 2012 and 2013. However, his relative lack of playing time helps alleviate some concerns about his NFL readiness. The impressive results in just two seasons lead many to believe Robinson has a lot of untapped potential.
The NFL is seen as a passing league and left tackles are supposed to be great pass protectors, but Robinson hasn’t shown an elite ability to protect the quarterback. Part of this is because Auburn didn’t ask him to. In 2012 and 2013, Auburn ranked 117th and 120th is passing attempts per game. The Rams’ coaching staff must believe Robinson’s pass protection skills don’t show on tape because of a lack of coaching and playing time, and by initially playing Robinson at guard, they are giving him the chance to learn without putting him on an island. In the mean time, he can dominate in the run game no matter what scheme the Rams use. Auburn used both zone- and gap-based runs throughout last season.
Back to the program, he was the most recent first rounder since Cam. How does Robinson help the program? Does the recent national championship appearance and the general umbrella of all things Malzahn make that less important than other schools who had players go early in the draft (see: Blake Bortles and Central Florida)?
Auburn had a terrible 2012 season (3-9, 0-8 in the SEC) and fans just wanted to see things going in the right direction in 2013. Of course, last season was so much better than that (12-2, 8-1 in the SEC). It showed that Auburn was fully back and ready to contend for conference and national championships. Having a player drafted so early is just further evidence that 2012 was an aberration.
Different programs have different stereotypes surrounding them, different traits that teams come to expect from prospects that come out of a given school. Is there anything NFL teams and fans should expect from Auburn Tigers moving forward? As I write this (at the end of day two of the 2014 NFL Draft), Robinson, Dee Ford and Tre Mason (who is also now a Ram, and I'll loop back on this with you later) are also now NFL players. Is there a characterization of what Auburn is sending to the professional level that applies across the roster?
Sometimes the media likes to characterize Auburn’s offense as a spread offense and that might make NFL fans think of players that are quick and flashy but not built for the toughness of the pro game. In actuality, Gus Malzahn characterizes his teams as "hard nosed" and their playing style shows it. In 2013, the offense was built on a two-back, zone read running game similar to that of the San Francisco 49ers. It may not be the smashmouth offense of Alabama or LSU, but every player on the field is expected to do some dirty work while waiting for the ball to come their way.
The defense has been underwhelming at Auburn for a few years now, but it has become quite versatile out of necessity. Due to injuries and lack of depth, many defensive backs have moved from corner to safety and back. Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson installed a 4-2-5 defense in 2013 with a hybrid safety/linebacker position. Finally, during spring training, some defensive tackles were moved outside to defensive end to alleviate some depth issues and give the line a new look against smashmouth teams.
For an off-the-field characterization, one word is always brought up by recruits, players, ex-players and even recruits... Family. It reminds me of Tre Mason telling the beat writers he was going to bake a cake for his linemen because of the success he was having. Dee Ford has already spoken about having the same feeling of family in Kansas City. Auburn players are great teammates and they trust in each other. Upperclassmen lead by example and when they graduate, the new upperclassman step up. Of course families have rough times to get through and the team didn’t seem get along well in 2012, but when Malzahn arrived, he told the players that the coaches would not be watching tape from that season and that everyone had to earn their place on the team anew. Letting the players get a fresh start so quickly really won them over.
Long term look. Who should NFL fans be on the lookout for? What members of the incoming/last class have Auburn fans excited? How do they fit into that model (if one exists) from the last question? Does this apply to the defensive line guys you picked up last year or the incoming skill position guys this year?
Auburn should have one of the best offenses in the country next year so there are lots of players to watch out for. Nick Marshall returns to play quarterback and, while he is electric with the read option, the former Georgia defensive back will have to improve his passing game to impress NFL scouts. Auburn is one of a few schools that claims the title "Running Back University" so there is always a chance that Cameron Artis-Payne or Corey Grant finds a place on an NFL roster next year.
The receiving corps is led by Sammie Coates, a tall and reliable three-year starter, but everyone is getting excited about JUCO transfer Duke Williams. Some have compared him to Cordarrelle Paterson, a JUCO transfer who played for Tennessee, so expect to see him at the next level soon. Finally, center Reese Dismukes considered declaring early for this year’s draft but decided to use his last year of eligibility. He has been the starter since arriving on campus in 2011, and while he has had an off-field issue or two, he is reliable and consistent on the line and seems to have matured over the last year or so.
As I said earlier, the defense has not always met fans’ expectations lately, but every year, an upperclassman on the defensive line steps up and makes a big impact. My guess is that defensive tackle Gabe Wright is that player this year. This will be his fourth year to start and he’s always played well. Perhaps this is the year he lives up to his number (90, Nick Fairley’s number) and his signing day hat, which read, "Nick Who?"
Thanks to WarRoomEagle for the info. With Les Snead taking two Tigers from his alma mater in the 2014 NFL Draft alone, we'd do well to keep an eye on the goings on down in eastern Alabama.