Knows system, being more vocal
By SETH EMERERSON
ATHENS, Ga. -- A few weeks ago Christian Robinson was walking through the Georgia football team’s training facility when he was stopped. Jeff Owens, the former Bulldog defensive lineman now with the Philadelphia Eagles, wanted a quick word.
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“It’s your ship now,” Owens said, according to Robinson.
He meant the defense, that the responsibility for guiding it on the field -- and in the locker room -- now rested with Robinson.
But when it comes to the outgoing rising junior from the Atlanta area, Owens could have meant much more.
Robinson may not be the tallest inside linebacker on the team. It remains to be seen if he’s the most skilled. But when it comes to intangibles, the coaches have seen enough.
Therefore, prepare for 2011 to be the year that Robinson is front and center. He is the on-field captain of the defensive unit and the off-field spokesman. The junior from Norcross will basically be, barring injury, the face of the Georgia defense.
“I’m not the biggest guy. But I know what I’m doing,” Robinson said. “I think my teammates respect me enough to go out there and listen.”
The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Robinson may have been switched to safety by a different coaching staff. But Georgia’s coaches appear to value knowledge and speed – in fact they took Alec Ogletree, a 6-foot-3 safety last year, and moved him beside Robinson at the other inside linebacker spot.
Last year was an up-and-down one on the field for Robinson. He began the year by earning a starting spot, then lost it for a couple games midway through the season to Marcus Dowtin. By the end of the year Robinson had regained the spot -- finishing as the team’s fifth-leading tackler -- and Dowtin transferred.
Akeem Dent had the defensive captain role last year, playing the same “Mike” linebacker position that Robinson now holds. Before spring practice began, Robinson pulled Dent aside to pick his brain.
Dent, watching a recent spring practice while he awaits the NFL draft, said coaches made the right call by anointing Robinson.
“He’s a real smart player,” Dent said. “That’s one thing about Chris, he really understood the defense well last year. That was the reason he got the opportunity last year, because he was one of the guys that understood the defense and understood the role.”
And in a defense where players are still learning the 3-4 system, and where reacting is so vital, Robinson’s responsibility is huge.
“It’s being able to make the calls in the huddle,” Dent said. “He’s the guy that’s gonna get everybody lined up. He has to get the front lined up and the guys behind him have to know what they’re doing too. It’s kind of an all-around role.”
Robinson’s ability to pick up the defensive schemes was no surprise. Robinson’s father Kenneth was standout linebacker at South Carolina, who also played briefly with the Washington Redskins. Kenneth later was an assistant coach at Greater Atlanta Christian, where Robinson played his high school ball.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham praised Robinson’s leadership abilities when he assigned him the role this spring. He mostly meant the on-field calls, but off the field Robinson has taken a bigger role too.
He’s somewhat of a social butterfly around the team, especially the younger players. He has close friends on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Aaron Murray.
“He’s just a great guy,” Murray said. “He’s always there if ever need some help, you just call Christian, he’s gonna be there to pick you up or if you’re in trouble or anything like that. He’s just a good guy. And he works hard, so guys are going to naturally go to guys that work hard.”
The new role seems to have forced a bit of a change in him. Murray and Dent said they’ve both noticed that Robinson has been a bit more vocal this spring.
“Those are my brothers. I never had any brothers growing up, so just knowing that they are trying to do the best they can for the guy next to them (motivates me),” Robinson said. “I want to do my job so (safety Bacarri) Rambo has an opportunity to make a pick. It’s really about caring about the guy next to you enough that you’re going to do your job.”
There may be new stars on this year’s defense. Jarvis Jones, the transfer from Southern California, has a chance to be the top defensive playmaker at outside linebacker. So does top recruit Ray Drew, another outside linebacker.
Ogletree could also emerge as a star. The defensive front has stud nose tackle recruit John Jenkins, and the secondary has Rambo and Brandon Boykin.
But for now, the undisputed leader of the defensive group is Robinson.
“You can’t be a leader if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Murray said. “And he knows more than anyone what to do.”