Robbins Revitalized as a Ram

Posted Oct 7, 2010

Maybe it’s the fresh start in the new city. Or it could be the fact that he’s surrounded by so many young players that he can’t help but feel young again. Or possibly it’s because he’s been reunited with Steve Spagnuolo and his defense.

Whatever the case, defensive tackle Fred Robbins feels young again since coming to the Rams and the results on the field have been clearly evident even if they were unexpected.

“Probably somewhat because I haven’t been here,” Robbins said. “I always know what I am capable of doing. You have just got to go out there and play hard no matter where you are from. We all want to win here. It’s not about what has happened in the past. But if you put forth the effort, that’s something you can show the young guys, a leadership guy who has been out there 11 years and is still playing hard.”

Not only is Robbins playing hard, he’s playing extremely well, something that might have been unexpected when the Rams moved so quickly to sign him as an unrestricted free agent on March 8.

The perception, at the time, seemed to be to simply add some veteran pieces capable of providing leadership and guidance in a young locker room. Anything else in terms of performance on the field might be considered a bonus.

Except, that’s not at all how Spagnuolo or any of the Rams personnel people viewed Robbins’ signing. Where some saw just leadership, the Rams saw a guy who simply needed to get past some of the health issues that had plagued him in recent seasons. Assuming that, what the Rams would have in Robbins was a brick wall in the middle of the defensive line capable of stuffing the run and providing some pass rush up the middle.

After spending two years coaching Robbins in New York, Spagnuolo knew exactly what he was getting even if it didn’t come with the gaudy numbers and cache of some of his other former pupils such as Osi Umenyiora or Justin Tuck.

“I think the guys respected him right from the beginning,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s played a lot in the league.  He’s a big defensive tackle in the middle that never takes a play off and he’s out here practicing all the time.  He is a leader.  He leads by example.  He’s got a great personality so he kind of keeps it loose, and I think the young guys appreciate that.”

After coming into the league as a second-round pick of Minnesota in 2000, Robbins went to New York in 2004. There, the 6’4, 325 pound defensive tackle, began to make a name for himself as an anchor in the middle of a deep and talented group.

Of course, the nature of his position kept Robbins from getting a lot of notoriety but it didn’t keep Spagnuolo from recognizing his talent.

During their time together in New York, Spagnuolo and Robbins forged a bond that made it easy not only for Spagnuolo to want Robbins to join him in St. Louis but for Robbins to want to rejoin his former defensive coordinator with the Rams.  

“He’s just well respected,” Robbins said. “Not only well respected as a coach but he knows you on a personal level too. That just makes you want to go out and play for a guy like that. It’s not just what you do on the field but off the field too. We work hard but he makes it fun too. That’s what makes guys want to go out and play for him.”

Essentially from the moment he arrived in St. Louis, Robbins embraced his new surroundings and his role as a leader in the locker room for his younger teammates.

Those youngsters embraced Robbins right back, quickly taking to a few traditions that go with the veteran/youth dynamic. While they are quick to ask Robbins for advice about everything from the defensive scheme to taking care of their bodies to off the field issues, they are also quick to crack a joke at the grizzled veteran’s expense.

“Fred is a great personality for this defense and this locker room and our D line,” end Chris Long said. “He’s another great veteran that you can learn a lot from. But he is still playing at a really high level. It’s pretty unbelievable the way he is playing. (He is) playing like (he’s) my age at 25 years old and are out there disrupting things, getting after the quarterback, stopping the run.”

The playful Long is an accomplished prankster and has been at the forefront of many of the jokes that come at Robbins’ expense.

But Robbins has taken to the good-natured ribbing and says that being around so many young guys has helped him to feel young again at the age of 33.

“Yeah, definitely because you have got to keep up with them,” Robbins said. “This is a lively bunch up here, especially this Christopher Long over here. But we have fun. I am having a blast while I am here.”

And Robbins himself even has a few childlike moments such as back in the spring when temperatures climbed and he suggested to Spagnuolo that the Rams take a break in the middle of a practice for popsicles.

“I mean, they were just sitting over there in the cooler in the cafeteria,” Robbins said. “You might as well put 'em to use on the field.”

While it’s hard to gauge a defensive tackle by his numbers – Robbins has nine tackles, a sack, three quarterback hits, a fumble recovery and two passes defended through four games – Robbins’ worth in clogging the run and taking on blockers can easily go unnoticed.

Not to a defensive expert such as Spagnuolo, who took a minute earlier this week to compliment Robbins on his performance.

“He’s been playing pretty good,” Spagnuolo said. “I said that to him earlier and he said, ‘No, I’m not really playing that good.’  That’s the kind of guy he is.  He wants to play better.”

For his part, Robbins says there are always areas of the game where he and anyone else can make strides.

“There’s always room for improvement, that’s how I critique myself each and every week,” Robbins said. “There’s some plays I left out on the field this past Sunday, a couple of key plays, a couple of big plays. But that’s the thing. You have to keep doing things on a consistent level and that’s what I try to teach this group here.”

That’s one of the many lessons that Robbins’ younger teammates can take from him on a daily basis.

While Robbins might be one of the oldest guys on the team, he’s playing much younger than his years in the business would indicate.

The humble, soft spoken Robbins attributes that to many of the reasons already mentioned combined with his habit of working with a nutritionist, taking care of himself through rehab and massages and all of the other little details he’s learned in his decade in the league.

“I still have got a lot left,” Robbins said. “That’s part of being a professional and taking care of yourself. It’s not over until it’s over. I have to keep on performing and just playing hard. As long as I keep doing that, everything will be fine.”