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Brian Robison: Evolved and Involved BY CRAIG PETERS

It was one of those moments.

Not one that defines a season in front of thousands in a stadium and millions more at home.

Nor one of those fiery, pregame Everson Griffen speeches that spike pulse rates and adrenaline.

Instead, it was a heart-to-heart, and Brian Robison opened veins, releasing his Purple blood.

Although Robison had started 65 consecutive regular-season games since Week 17 of 2012, he told teammates in the Vikings defensive line meeting room that Danielle Hunter was ready to start opposite Griffen this season.

“When you take a back seat, there’s a lot of pride and emotion that comes with that,” Robison said. “For me, it was about showing the guys that I am a team player, that this is not about me, and as an 11-year vet, you don’t take things for granted.”

Robison believed in this team’s potential and wanted nothing more than to make it a reality.

“That’s the only thing that matters,” Robison said. “It’s not about my stats. It’s not about Brian Robison being the starting left defensive end. It’s about winning football games and bringing a championship to Minnesota, a place that thoroughly deserves it.

“It was very emotional because when you get used to being that guy for that long, it’s hard to take a step back,” Robison added. “I think I gained a whole new respect from them by showing them that side of me.”

To Robison, it was the “right time, right place, right moment to do that.”

To teammates, it was the right message from the right messenger.

Second-year pro Stephen Weatherly remembers Robison saying, “We have a very talented room. Everybody has been working hard and producing. I understand what my role is, and I’m going to compete and push you the same way you’ve been pushing me. Still feel free to come and speak to me and talk to me, ask for any advice, and I will always help,’ stuff like that.”

Weatherly, who said Robison, Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson were three of the first Vikings to introduce themselves to the 2016 seventh-round pick, was impressed, even though the significance didn’t fully set in until eighth-year veteran Linval Joseph elaborated.

“[Joseph] said, ‘That’s really big because you get a lot of guys who, once they lose that starting spot, will go into hole, become a recluse, shun themselves, won’t help the younger guys,’ ” Weatherly explained before adding that Robison has shown “super-high character” in doling out lessons to younger players.

Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson has shown film to younger players like Weatherly and Hunter to illustrate the way Robison utilizes proper technique to defend the run. Patterson credited Robison for the way he handled the change with “professionalism and pride” and for his role in helping one of Minnesota’s deepest position groups.

“It takes a huge man to do that, but most importantly, I think it’s respect he has for Danielle and knowing that he played a part in the development of Danielle, too,” Patterson said.

Expanded role

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.”

Reliable Robison

Robison has started one game this season — at Washington — and was instrumental in helping quell a late rally. With Griffen out because of a foot injury, Hunter slid to right defensive end and Robison played primarily at left defensive end.

He was there on a key play in the third quarter when Washington tried a pass on a fourth-and-6 and knocked down the football as it left Kirk Cousins’ hand.

“When the pressure is on the line, I have a comfort with him,” Patterson said. “When it’s late in ball games and we’ve got to have it, 96 is going to be on the field some place because he has the ability to make a play when you need a play to be made, and he’s going to play the running game exactly the way that you coach it to be done.”

Brian Robison celebrates a defensive stop against Washington

Robison was out with a back injury the following week against the Rams, but Griffen returned. The Vikings turned to Weatherly to play Robison’s hybrid role.

“That was tough, just being in his shoes for that game and understanding the load he has to carry for each game,” Weatherly said. “Preparing for it is a little bit different than just playing standard defensive end. It’s intense, so it made me appreciate him and what he does for us that much more.”

The ability to add deception and disguise is founded on a reliability.

Decorative rims on a tricked-out truck wouldn’t do much if attached to a broken axle.

Robison, however, has shown a strong core, earning trust from coaches and teammates.

“I think the reason the coaches feel like that is no matter what they’ve asked me to do, I’ve put my whole effort into it and did it to my fullest ability,” Robison said. “In a way, I’m a perfectionist, so if I’m not in the perfect spot or right spot that is right for the defense, then I make sure if I mess it up once, I don’t mess it up again. That’s what the coaches see out of me, that no matter what, I’m going to try to do everything the right way for the greater good. Not for me to make plays, but for the greater good of the team.”

Patterson confirmed, saying, “His biggest thing was, ‘Whatever role you need from me to help this team be successful, that’s what I’m going to do.’

“Now, it took a couple of games for him to feel comfortable with his role,” Patterson added. “Usually he starts the game, gets lathered up and I give him [a breather]. Now, you’re coming off the bench cold, so, ‘How do I get myself lathered up to where when I go out there I can perform the way I need to perform?’ It took a couple of games for him to get himself used to it. Once that happened, when he hits the field, you see the same old B-Rob.”

“Reel ’Em In Foundation”

One of the leading ways in which Robison is an example for his children is through his “Reel ’Em in Foundation” that he officially launched in October 2015.

The foundation raises money for K9s4COPs, an organization that trains and provides K9s to police departments. The efforts when from raising $27,000 in the first year to $110,000 in the second year primarily by hosting celebrity fishing tournaments in Texas and Minnesota.

“I don’t think we’d ever believed that it would grow that much over one year, but now, I have very lofty expectations,” the humble Robison answered when asked if the success surprised him. “I’m trying to raise a quarter-million dollars next year. It’s a lofty goal, but I think if it grew that much in one year, I’m hoping that word will keep getting out and we’ll be able to keep growing it.”

He has again scheduled tournaments in Texas (March) and in Wabasha (June) next year. An added element this year will be a raffle in which one participant will win a 14-foot ice house with a “summer-winter package” on it from Glacier Ice House. Robison said Continental Diamond is paying for the “brunt” of the ice house to enable more money to be raised for charity.

The Robisons decided they would be hands-on with the planning and execution of the foundation, with Brian, an avid fisherman, able to take experiences at tournaments that he’s attended and make their own event.

“It’s very stressful, but at the end of it all, it’s even more gratifying for us, knowing that we did all of the work,” Robison said. “It’s not just about donating the money. That’s what we want to be able to do and what the major goal is, but at the end of the day, when we do all of the work, it’s like we put our time and effort into it, as well as the money. That’s kind of the reason we wanted to do it. It was different for us and very stressful, but at the same time, it’s much more gratifying.”

A Question for ‘96 Questions’ Host

Robison’s commitment to the team leaves little need for questioning him, but the defensive end has made a habit out of questioning others for a weekly in-season Vikings.com segment called “96 Questions with Brian Robison.”

Robison roams the locker room asking teammates for their takes on lighter-sided topics.

Which Viking has the best grunt in the weight room? Which teammate would a player least want to date his sister, which Viking has the most selfies on his phone, which player was the last to get his first kiss?

Sometimes one question prompts the same answer over and over, with teammates unknowingly piling on one player. Sometimes there are surprises.

One of the ultimate zappers occurred when he dug up old photos from teammates’ adolescent, high school and college years.

So the question for Robison is, “How are you able to zing teammates in a way that they understand it and have a laugh instead of getting mad?”

“I ask myself that question every day, because there are some things that I say in there, that’s just, I’m just crazy, let’s be honest, I’m just crazy,” Robison said. “I say some things, that in a lot of places probably couldn’t be said, but I think the guys respect me and know that there’s no — that I am joking. Guys know that that’s my mentality, the way I am. I’m a loose guy. I’m care-free, and guys know that I love them.

“At the end of the day, they know I love them, and if there’s something serious that needs to be talked about, I’m there. It’s not just joking around from me. I’ve had to have serious conversations with guys about life issues, about issues with playing, things they can’t control. They know I have a serious side to me but I’m also a light, goofy guy.”

Weatherly has a theory on why teammates don’t mind the barbs from B-Rob, the longest-tenured Viking.

“It’s just ’cause he’s spent time getting to know people,” Weatherly said. “B-Rob was one of the first people to come and introduce himself to me.

“He was someone in my position group, and if I have any problems or questions, he gave me his number, so he really reached out and made that connection,” Weatherly added. “He has that rapport. He’s reached out to everyone, gave them his number, ‘I’m here on your side. If you have questions, just hit me up. It doesn’t matter what time it is.’ Because he’s always there for people, it’s a brotherly love-type of thing, which allows him to do those zingers.”

Created By
Craig Peters
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