clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

L.A. Rams: Don't Give Up On Greg Robinson...

New, comments

The ghosts of bad draft choices haunt fans, and the people who selected them too... Head slapping, groaning and bemoaning, it's a part of being an NFL fan, as well as a head coach or general manager. Some players were meant only to rise so high in one of the toughest sports in the world. Not unlike every other person on this planet, players start out with dreams. But they stay dreams...

When Greg Robinson was selected second overall in the 2014 NFL draft, fans were treated to videos of him slapping college opponents around. He was a uncontrollable freight train for Auburn University. "Pancake" blocks were his mainstay, and he looked like a giant among men...

Turning the page - from college to the Pros - hasn't been smooth for Robinson. He arrived at the St. Louis ( now Los Angeles) Rams training camp with #2 overall draft pick expectations. The idea head coach Jeff Fisher had of starting him out at guard seemed like a good one? Then one of those "best laid plans..." things happened. Injuries along the Rams' offensive line in 2014 created a need at left tackle; one Robinson wasn't ready to fill. He did his best to step up, but fundamental adjustments offensive line coach Paul Boudreau began to instill in Robinson hadn't taken hold. The Auburn star looked lost on the field. Missed blocks, and pass blocking miscues were glaring. With Rams fans still haunted by a failed left tackle #2 overall draft pick in 2009 (Jason Smith), the pressure began to prematurely build on Robinson; outside any kind of well reasoned norm...

I constantly remind NFL fans about the varying learning curves each player goes through after college. They can be short, long, or never ending to the point a player earns the dreaded "Bust" paint. It's just my opinion, but I think fans whip out their "bust brushes" way to early in many cases. There's a difference between "reasons" and "excuses" when it comes to evaluating where a player is along his development line.

Let's start out with a broad view of the Los Angeles Rams offensive line situation on the whole. When Greg Robinson was selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, he became the first piece Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead added to a woeful position group. Defense had held sway in Rams drafts the previous two years, while assorted free agents - most of them bargain basement,or at the end of their careers in the NFL  - formed the core of their offensive line. The time Robinson had with former Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long was short - too short. Long went down with a knee injury, and became a salary cap casualty the following year. Rams fans know the litany of travails the offensive line has gone through, but don't just look at Jeff Fisher's arrival in 2012 as the starting point. Like most position groups on an NFL team, the more players needed to fill all the spots, the more time it takes to find the right mix...

Robinson fell into a tough situation; one that Rams defensive end Chris Long could easily identify with when he arrived in St. Louis as a #2 overall draft pick in 2008. Long's learning curve was shorter than Robinson's, but I think he'd be the first to agree playing left tackle is one of the toughest positions on the field. Guarding a quarterback's blindside isn't an easy thing to do. Pass rushers have the advantage as the attacker. There's an old axiom in boxing that goes something like this: "defense, without the threat of offense, buys you nothin' but canvas..." It means, if all you can do is block punches - and not present the threat of returning a few - sooner or later punches are going to get thru. Young offensive tackles fresh out of college aren't ready for the speed of NFL players. They're still concentrating on footwork, complex play calling, protection schemes, hand placement... Defensive ends feast on rookie left tackles. They throw their entire arsenal at them, and defensive coordinators help out by heaping on blitz packages that are the stuff of nightmares...

Run blocking is a different story for a left tackle. They get to "throw, not just protect." Robinson is going to excel in this area. He'll get pass blocking down, and his athleticism will be a key here. In 2015, he saw a rise in holding calls against him. Don't think for a minute he wasn't told by a coach or two to do it: "I don't care what you do, but protect the damn quarterback from getting hammered!" He probably took it a bit too far, but Rams quarterbacks were sacked less in 2015 than in 2014: 18 vs 47, respectively.

Having a quarterback who can move around a bit helps. Yet, I really don't think mobility means as much as calling out protection changes. Usually the job of the quarterback or center, what they see as they come to the line of scrimmage is a key component in every play. Blocking assignments can be shifted and changed up to the moment the ball is snapped. If you don't have someone who knows what he's seeing in a defensive alignment or shift, the offensive line is left with their assignment designated in the original play call. Unlike defensive linemen - who can roll, stunt, spin, ect... - an offensive lineman has narrowly defined responsibilities within the play call itself. In an "after the fact" second, linemen are constantly a half second behind what a defensive lineman is doing. Protection changes - especially in pass blocking - can mitigate some of this, but not all...

If Greg Robinson has a "to do" list, it's his pass blocking. But the Rams' Jeff Fisher and Les Snead knew this when they drafted him. At Auburn, pass blocking wasn't at the top of their list. Robinson fit the bill for Fisher's "run the ball down their throats" philosophy. The problem is, the NFL can bury a team that's one dimensional on offense.

Leadership in the offensive huddle doesn't get near the importance it deserves. When Nick Foles arrived via an off season trade that sent Sam Bradford to Philadelphia, the command view of the quarterback shifted to a different set of eyes. Robinson really never had Bradford at the helm of the offense, but instead had constantly changing quarterbacks: Shaun Hill and Austin in 2014; Foles, Case Keenum -  a small slice of Sean Mannion - in 2015. Quarterbacks don't see the same thing, and let's not forget they each skew their view of what's happening based what they feel they can do: A pocket passer sees things one way, while a mobile quarterback sees them another.

Protection calls are one thing to look at, but the score board is another. If your team is losing, the opponent's defense begins to morph into a slathering wrecking machine on passing downs. Robinson has the athletic talent to handle all out blitzes and pass rushes. Yet, the lack of a complete offensive line group for a prolonged period of time is making things tough across the board. If you start one game with a guard next to you, only to be replaced by another due to a variety of circumstances, the skill set change alone has a limiting factor on what any player can count on play to play. Young position players are heavily effected by this more than we know. In college, they had - for the most part - some stability when it came to who they were playing next too. Robinson - in my opinion - may be effected by this interchangeability more than what's ideal.

Greg Robinson hasn't found what I'll call "his comfort zone" in the NFL. When he does, he'll be more than fine. I believe he'll transform into one of the very best tackles in the NFL. But what if he doesn't? His tremendous baseline talent could easily translate to guard, which is huge need for the Los Angeles Rams. Running back Todd Gurley needs a bulldozer or two at guard to help him reach the next level, and Robinson's jersey number could easily be changed to D-11... With a "go forward, and maul" play call, he'd excel. But I think he'd be underachieving, or at the very least be underutilized. He has everything you want in a tackle, it's just going to take a bit more time to show itself at the NFL level.

The Los Angeles Rams have a great offensive line in the making. The slew of 2015 draft picks to fill tackle, guard and center needs added layers of potential and depth to a position group long neglected. Greg Robinson is going to be a key cog in an opponent mauling offensive line of the future for the Los Angeles Rams. He'll make his presence known in the NFL. When he finds out who he really is, the ground of NFL stadiums will begin to rumble. Linebackers' eyes will open wide at his approach, and defensive linemen are going to have long, slug-fest filled Sunday afternoons. The best of Greg Robinson has yet to be seen...