Coming into the season, the Rams were considered by many to be a 4-win team at best. Even Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post Dispatch had his parade meter set at five; meaning if the Rams won five games the city should throw a parade in their honor.
It took all hands on deck to transform a 1-15 football team into a potential playoff contender. General manager, Billy Devaney, can be thanked for building through the draft and sticking to his guns by selecting high character players. Most notably, James Laurinaitis and Sam Bradford who became instant leaders and stand outs on their respective sides of the ball.
Observers have been quick to point to Sam Bradford when discussing the team’s improvement, but we have a guy who equally deserves credit.
He goes by Fred “Big Dog” Robbins (as many of his teammates call him) and, at 34 years young, few have ever considered him a superstar. Turn on the tape, however, and it’s easy to see why he has been one of the most productive defensive tackles year in and year out.
Steady As He Goes
After compiling a solid three-year career at Wake Forest with 15 sacks and 44 tackles-for-loss, many thought Robbins would inch his way into the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft. Lo and behold, he didn’t, but the Vikings were confident enough to select him with their second pick at No. 55.
Up and down play early on in Robbins’ career, combined with the outstanding performances by Kevin Williams, made it an easy decision for the Vikings to let him walk at the end of 2003. Not to worry though, there were plenty of teams that saw potential in him if put in the right scheme and coaching style.
When the Giants came knocking with a six year, $20 million deal, it seemed the perfect match and would prove so. With 25 sacks, four playoff appearances, an improbable Super Bowl run, and a valuable connection made with coach Steve Spagnuolo, Robbins’ journey as a New York Giant was an eventful success.
2009, however, was a disappointing final season for him in New York and Robbins once again found himself looking for a new home. Insert Coach Spagnuolo who had recently taken over in St.Louis. Spagnuolo had made it clear that his number one priority in the off-season was to add a veteran locker room presence that could anchor a struggling defensive line. $11.3 million later, the deal was done and the team now had the option to pass on Ndamukong Suh in favor of Sam Bradford.
Life’s Better With Fred
Apparently, playing defensive end in a system where Fred Robbins is clogging the middle can be a good for one’s career. Just ask Chris Long and James Hall – they both enjoyed their best seasons to date in 2010.
Long played like a man on a mission this year, continuously harassing the quarterback to the tune of eight sacks and 57 quarterback pressures. Finishing 2010 with an overall grade of +16.9, which placed him in the top 20 among all 4-3 defensive ends.
Shift your focus down to the right end of the line where James Hall sets up shop. Hall is savvy, he doesn’t have a spin move like Freeney or a power move like Peppers, but in the NFL, pressure is the name of the game, no matter how you slice it. 55 tackles, 10 sacks and six forced fumbles is pretty good for a guy who can play the run as well as he rushes the passer.
Robbins, too, enjoyed the best season of his career, amassing 10 tackles for losses, six sacks, and seven batted passes. All told, St. Louis’ defensive line took a step forward and finished the season by racking up 72 more QB disruptions than in 2009.
It’s hard to tell if the end of the line is nearing. Fred’s snaps decreased dramatically in the second half of the season, even though he was more effective with limited reps.
The key will be to find players who can spell him. Spagnuolo makes it a part of his philosophy to hoard pass rushers and have certain roles for everyone along the defensive line. Knowing this and how important Robbins has been to the turnaround in St.Louis, it’s safe to say “Big Dog” will have a job as long as he continues to produce.
And perhaps sometime soon, when conversations turn to reasons for the Rams’ rebound, some will point in his direction too.