PITTSBURGH — When you think about the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, you think about a hard-hitting breed of football that punishes and intimidates opponents.
Jack Lambert is the ultimate symbol of Steelers toughness from the Steel Curtain era. More recently, James Harrison and Ryan Clark graced the Pittsburgh gridiron as wallopers. Recently retired linebacker Vince Williams carried on that tradition. Mark Robinson, this year’s seventh-round pick, wants to do the same.
Robinson’s name is not one that Steelers fans know much about just yet. They may see that he played at Ole Miss, but that only tells a brief part of his story.
After transferring from Southeast Missouri to Ole Miss as a running back, Robinson’s path took him to linebacker. The running back to linebacker switch is a rarity. However, Robinson always had the mentality to play defense. Relishing in punishing opponents with his relentless physicality, Robinson was a violent runner who was a tough player to tackle. After switching to linebacker, Robinson became the opposition. He was now the one laying the boom on opposing running backs. It was a change, but Robinson fell in love quickly.
“I didn’t know how I would like it at first, but I love it,” Robinson said. “I love being the guy who can deliver the blow instead of being the one taking the blows. I want to lay a guy out. I love defense, man. It’s much better for me.”
Robinson wasn’t recruited leaving Southeast Missouri, a walk-on who had to earn his role on Lane Kiffin’s hard-nosed Rebels squad. Everything about Robinson says he is cut from a different type of cloth. Robinson built his game on letting opponents know that he was coming. If a player watched Ole Miss tape the week before, they would have to fear Robinson.
Robinson wears his play style on his sleeve. It is everything that he builds his game off of. Opponents may fear Robinson, but do not tell him that he hits hard. Robinson might just say otherwise.
“You think I hit hard?”, Robinson asked. “I don’t hit hard enough.”
That walk-on, gritty avenue that Robinson took to get to this point is not lost on him either. His blood, sweat, and tears were left on the football field consistently. Robinson was a relentless warrior in the weight room. There was causation to all of Robinson’s madness. He loved the game of football, and nothing was going to stop him from reaching the heights he saw for himself. It is that journey that has bred the gritty, physical style that Robinson’s game is made up of. His walk-on story and hard-hitting nature are the fabric of his identity as a football player.
“When you walk on, and you have nothing left, you play a little different,” Robinson said. “My back was against the wall, so I built that edge. It’s just part of who you become.”
Robinson might join the lineage of hard hitters in the front seven that the Steelers have had. He has heard some of the comparisons to Williams and others within the mold that he plays, but he is not trying to be anything but himself. If anything, Robinson has been sticking in his own lane his entire journey to this point. The Steelers tradition looms large, and Robinson is ready to follow in their footsteps but in his own way.
“I’m just Mark Robinson, man,” Robinson said. “I’m not saying I’m better than those guys, but I respect what they did here. I respect the tradition here. I’m just a rookie. I haven’t played any games. I’m out to prove myself first. I’m walking on my path. Someday, if I do that, maybe I’ll get where they are.”
A true player that lives and breathes football, Robinson sees himself as someone who has to improve everything in his game. Yes, that includes his hit power. Robinson knows his reputation well, but it still is not enough for him. If there is someone out there who still thinks Robinson is not scary to meet one-on-one in the B gap, Robinson is out to change that.
“There’s nothing I have down pat,” Robinson said. “If they think I hit hard, I’m still trying to hit harder. If they think I can’t cover, I’m going to prove them wrong. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to get better.”
Robinson projects to play the Buck linebacker role for the Steelers. However, it does not matter to him where the Steelers want to play him. If they ask him to do something on the field, Robinson is up for it. Special teams are right down his alley, as he gets to hit people at will as a free runner. Any aspect of football that is around, Robinson is probably involved in it somehow.
“At the end of the day, football is everything for me,” Robinson said. “I eat, sleep, and breathe football. I love the game. Any aspect of the game, let’s go. Just put the ball down, and let’s play.”
Robinson is ready to go ahead and get to work. If there is anyone who is a football purist that a throwback coach would love, Robinson is that guy. His mindset is all about the love for the game, physicality, vocalness, and just going out and playing the game. It is easy to see why someone like Mike Tomlin was drawn to Robinson. It all leads to now, where Robinson is ready to get started.
“I’m ready to go play ball now,” Robinson said. “At the end of the day, I’m here, and I’m happy to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.”