If you dream to one day become an interior offensive lineman in the NFL, your dreams are not filled with fame and recognition. Even the most hardened of NFL fans don’t always know of secret superstars such as Nick Mangold, Mike Pouncey or Alex Mack, while the casual fan rarely ever even understands the importance or attraction of center or guard play. If the names Mangold, Pouncey or Mack are unfamiliar to you, or you only know them because of Madden, then there is absolutely no chance that the name Trevor Robinson registers. Unless, maybe, you are a Cincinnati Bengals fan.
For some time, the Bengals have had two very talented offensive tackles in Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth. While the tackles have been the franchise’s staples for quality offensive line play, this season was the year when they would revamp the interior of the offensive line to try and match the quality outside. Free agent addition Travelle Wharton, and first round draft pick Kevin Zeitler were expected to join incumbent center Kyle Cook, to form an improved trio upfront, but only the guard Zeitler remains as both Cook and Wharton were lost to injury before even playing a game. The Bengals signed free agent Jeff Faine to replace Cook at center, but he didn’t impress in his new surroundings.
Faine was replaced by undrafted rookie Robinson last week, but injuries to both limited his immediate impact. Instead Robinson made the first full start of his short career this week against the New York Giants. Despite being thrown into the deep end against a rotation of superstar defensive linemen, Robinson exceeded all expectations and starred in a Bengals’ victory.
At only 22 years of age, Robinson’s physical limitations are obvious, but his combination of technique and controlled aggression allowed him to make plays on a consistent basis in this game. On 30 gradable pass plays, Robinson gave up just one quarterback pressure when he was beaten up the middle by an opposing defensive tackle. Robinson ended up on his back on the play as he never set himself initially after the snap. It was the only time that his technique in pass protection let him down however. He was consistently pushed back into the pocket, but always established his form to contain his assigned defender. On four occasions, Robinson was pushed at least three yards backwards on passing plays. Outside of those few minor marks against him however, he did enough to neutralize the Giants’ interior pass rushing threat.
On 27 gradable running plays, Robinson was just as impressive. The undrafted rookie was only noticeably beaten on four running plays in the whole game. Each of those plays were very difficult assignments that required him to gain outside technique on defenders who were showing him his inside shoulder. That required Robinson to get outside the defender before engaging them. While he didn’t prove to be athletic enough to move laterally like that effectively, he did show off his ability to consistently get to the second level and attach himself to defenders in space. Eight times Robinson moved into the second level of the defense, but only once did he fail to engage a defender in space. His agility was notable also in sealing off defenders to clear running lanes, something he did successfully six times, but his lack of physicality limited his impact when trying to push bigger bodies off the line of scrimmage.
In the very first start of his career, Robinson didn’t look anything like an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame. Of course, he still has a long way to go to be a recognizable secret superstar in the NFL. That doesn’t mean he will never be there however, and he showed off all the potential to one day give the Bengals the star center they desire. A physical presence can be molded through development and a commitment in the gym. If he can add those vital pounds, he has already shown all the technique and fundamentals to be a fine starting center.
No matter what he does, the majority of NFL fans won’t ever know his name, but the fans of the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns will tell you just how good it feels to have a high quality center on your roster.
Cian Fahey tweets primarily NFL @Cianaf