Steelers Rookie LB Mark Robinson Thriving as Run-Stopping Specialist
The seventh-round choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2023 NFL Draft, linebacker Mark Robinson finally got the chance to show up in the stat box for Pittsburgh Steelers against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17.
The rookie has been behind a host of players at inside linebacker, including starters Devin Bush and Myles Jack, veteran Robert Spillane and special teams ace Marcus Allen. As such, he dressed for just the fourth time this season in Baltimore with Allen out for the season after biceps surgery and Jack battling a groin pull.
It wasn’t a surprise that Robinson was on the game day active roster, but it was definitely a surprise when Robinson came onto the field with the starting defense for the first snap of the game. Robinson played a total of 26 snaps, or 50% of the Steelers’ total, and finished with seven tackles.
Jack didn’t finish the game due to his injury, but it wasn’t a lack of availability of other players that was the cause of the increased workload for the rookie. Instead, considering the smash-mouth circumstance of Sunday night’s must-win game agains the Ravens, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin thought that Robinson was the right man for the job.
“He’s a guy that likes physical confrontation,” Tomlin said on Tuesday. “That’s the one component of his game that has never been in question. Growth and development, all other areas, due to youth and a lack of experience is. He’s grown over the course of the season and we’ve challenged him to get comfortable with professional football.”
The Steelers expected a run-heavy look from the Ravens with Baltimore playing without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson and wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay. In Week 14, the similarly shorthanded Ravens were still able to rush for 215 yards and seal the game on a must-convert first down attempt with three straight rushes.
So Tomlin and company went back to the drawing board, looking for changes that could turn the tide toward Pittsburgh in the rematch. What Robinson lacked in experience was made up for by his specific ability to stop the run, something that played heavily into the matchup with the Ravens.
“To be blunt, we were stepping into a game that was going to challenge him in a specific area,” Tomlin said. “And that specific area was in line with his skill set. So we let him play.”
Robinson is still getting accustomed to the position, having played running back for a lot of his college career before being switched to the defensive side at Ole Miss.
“There’s a lot of growth that needs to transpire there in terms of the nuances of the position and a lot of the things that come with the position,” Tomlin said.
If Sunday night was any indication, Mark Robinson is starting to fit into the mold of physical Steelers linebackers of times past. It’s looking more and more likely that Bush will be gone after the season when his contract expires, so it will be interesting to see if Robinson’s increased playing time continues. It worked out for Pittsburgh against its arch rival, though, that’s for sure.