While it appeared on the surface that Robison’s role would be reduced, he remains in a frequent rotation with Griffen, Hunter and Weatherly at defensive end. Robison also continues to kick inside to one of the defensive tackle spots in the Vikings elite nickel defense package, which he first did under Patterson and Head Coach Mike Zimmer in Hunter’s rookie 2015 season.
Fans might remember Robison, a 2007 fourth-round pick, working in a similar capacity before becoming a starter in 2011.
“The first three or four years of my career, that’s pretty much what I did,” Robison recalled. “I was a nickel pass rusher and would come in at end or be inside. I learned a lot from Kevin Williams, man.
Brian Robison celebrates with Kevin Williams after recovering a fumble for a touchdown at Soldier Field in 2013.
“Kevin taught me a lot of the ropes on how to rush inside, what to look for in protections and things like that,” Robison said. “I owe a lot of what I do now, understanding the game and protections to what he taught me. He was a big role model for me when I came into the league.”
Robison tied Williams and Hall of Famer Paul Krause for the sixth-most regular-season games by a Vikings defender (171) against Cincinnati when he had 2.0 sacks, tormented the Bengals from multiple places on the field and helped the Vikings clinch the NFC North.
He joined linebacker Eric Kendricks in mugging the left and right of the center before dropping into coverage and lined up behind Griffen before blitzing on another play. In addition to pressuring passes, he also made an impressive tackle on a short pass to force a punt in the fourth quarter.
“It’s definitely evolved over the last few years,” Robison said. “It’s almost like I’m an end / 3-technique / linebacker. Because of what we can do out of it and the different packages we can put together, offenses can’t necessarily game-plan like they want to against what we’re going to do.
“I like it because it’s challenging,” Robison added. “You really have to be on your Ps and Qs, but it’s very fun because when you get out there, it becomes such a chess match against the opposing offense. They’re trying to make their checks and calls, and you’re trying to make your checks and calls as well. Both teams are trying to counter each other’s calls, so it really becomes a big chess match. It’s challenging, but it’s fun to see it evolve as well.”
Patterson said the more that the coaching staff worked with Robison, the more clear it became that he had the intelligence to handle coverage concepts that can change based on an offense’s formation or routes.
2017 Week 13: Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons
“He’s got to know all of the different coverage variables,” Patterson said. “That’s hard to do, so there’s a great deal of respect for him and his knowledge of the game and of our system.”
The game plan for Cincinnati, where Zimmer was defensive coordinator from 2008-13, involved moving Robison “all over the place,” Patterson said.
“That makes it difficult for the offensive line,” Patterson said. “How do you count him? As they’re going through their protection schemes, they have to figure out what they’re declaring him as. Are they declaring him as a fourth defensive lineman or are they declaring him as a linebacker?”
Weatherly said Robison’s intelligence and experience is particularly helpful to the rest of the defense, particularly in the stand-up role.
“He just knows how to call things, what to say in the right times, how to line us up if he’s asked to do that, things of that nature. … That’s why that stand-up position he plays is so integral to our defense,” Weatherly said. “When the backers get the call through the headset, they echo their calls, and then the offense makes a check, and then we make a check, just being able to be one of the people to make those checks.
“It’s crazy because you see the whole offense go into a frenzy, and they have to hurry up and audible, and if they’re playing at [our place], they can’t and get a delay of game or have a bad snap or something like that. You really can see it coming together.”