Aug 8, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Greg Robinson (79) defends against New Orleans Saints defensive end Glenn Foster (97) during the first half at Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Jeff Fisher Strategy: Why We Shouldn't Be Concerned About Greg Robinson Not Starting Week 1

 

With the No.2 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams chose to finally use their final pick from the infamous 2012 Robert Griffin III trade. There were, obviously, plenty of options for the Rams sitting atop the board, including dynamo Clemson wide out, Sammy Watkins, the electrifying pass rusher from Buffalo, Khalil Mack, and the pedigreed offensive tackle from Texas A&M, Jake Matthews. The St. Louis Rams also had the option of trading down in the draft, much like they had done in the past, likely remaining in range to snag one of their Top 5 players, all while continuing their run of having two selections on the opening day of the Draft. In light of those options, Jeff Fisher and Les Snead opted, instead, to use that high pick on Greg Robinson, the mauling, uber-athletic offensive tackle out of Auburn. Despite concerns about his “rawness” on the outside, particularly in pass protection, many, including the Rams, believed that his high-ceiling and natural abilities were something they couldn’t pass up.

Immediately after the selection, it was made public that the St. Louis Rams would push Robinson to the interior of the offensive line, much like the Baltimore Ravens had done with Jonathan Ogden back in 1996. With Jake Long cemented on the roster though 2016, the thought would be that Robinson could immediate be inserted into the starting lineup at guard, using his mauling abilities to make an immediate impact in the run game, with Long and former All-Pro center, Scott Wells, masking his inefficiencies in pass protection. Over time, as he developed as a pass blocker, Robinson would eventually take the reins from Long on the outside, providing the St. Louis Rams with a cornerstone, blindside protector that was also proficient as an interior lineman.

However, Robinson struggled with the transition to the NFL early in the offseason, noting the complex playbook and the transition to a completely new position on the offensive line as encumbering factors. Despite showing some promise during training camp, Robinson played adequate, at best, during his time on the field in “live” preseason action. Jeff Fisher and Co. opted to toggle their No.2 overall selection between left guard and left tackle during those bouts, in the hope that taking reps at both spots would ameliorate his development. Instead, Robinson never truly “settled in” at either spot, further inhibited by a diminished level of surrounding talent, with backup- and practice squad-caliber talent regularly flanking him during those games.

As a result, rumors began circulating earlier in the week that Robinson could start the 2014 regular season on the bench, buried on the depth chart behind former-Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ guard, Davin Joseph, until he was ready to claim his spot in the starting lineup. When this was “confirmed” yesterday, many in Rams Nation were distraught, instantly hitting their proverbial panic button as nightmares of Alex Barron and Jason Smith flooded their psyche.

While it may be difficult to dissociate Greg Robinson, the player, from his lofty draft status (i.e. No.2 overall), looking at the young talent as a “rookie,” as opposed to a pre-ordained All-Pro, might help ease some of the worry. Jeff Fisher has a long documented history of opting for the experienced veteran over the inexperienced rookie to start the regular season, even if their is a palpable discrepancy in talent.

In 2005, the Tennessee Titans used the No.6 overall pick on Adam “Pacman” Jones. Due to a variety of circumstances, Jones did not start in his rookie season opener. With the No.41 overall selection, Jeff Fisher chose to draft Michael Roos; the highest he had ever taken an offensive lineman, prior to the Greg Robinson pick this year. Roos would not become a starter for the Tennessee Titans until three years later (2008), but would go on to become a three-time AP All-Pro offensive tackle, and is still playing at a high level for the Titans.

In 2006, Jeff Fisher famously started Kerry Collins over the No.3 overall pick, Vince Young. Had it not been for injury and poor play, Young would have likely had to wait much longer than the fourth game of his rookie regular season to see his first NFL start. Despite how the end of his career turned out, Young would go on win the AP Rookie of the Year award and make two Pro Bowls.

In 2007, with the 19th overall pick, Jeff Fisher and the Tennessee Titans selected Michael Griffin, a strong safety out of Texas. Griffen would not start the season at safety, but instead get moved over to cornerback until midway through the regular season when he was “benched” in favor of the returning Adam “Pacman” Jones. Griffin would return to the starting lineup later in the season in the secondary, and would be a cornerstone of the Titans defense for the next half decade. With the No.50 overall pick in that same class, Tennessee selected Chris Henry, who would not see the field until Week 6.

In 2009, Fisher chose not to start the Titans No.62 overall selection, Sen’Derrick Marks. Third-rounder, Jared Cook, also did not play in the season opener.

With the St. Louis Rams, Jeff Fisher has been just as cautious in starting rookies over more experienced veterans. In 2012, Brian Quick and Trumaine Johnson were both held in check until later on in the regular season. While Quick was considered a “project” by most, it was somewhat surprising to see buried on the depth chart, not seeing any significant snaps until Week 10. The 2013 NFL Draft was a bit of an anomaly, with Alec Ogletree having essentially no competition for the starting spot, and Tavon Austin fitting into the “slot” role, which is technically not a “starting” position. Even Zac Stacy, albeit due to some injuries and being a later-round draftee, was held out of the starting lineup in favor of the “veteran” Daryl Richardson until Fisher was forced to plug him in after Week 4.

No, Greg Robinson will not be a starter in Week 1.

Yes, Jeff Fisher chose Davin Joseph, a Pro Bowl guard back in 2011, to start in his place.

No, the St. Louis Rams should not be concerned. This is how Jeff Fisher operates as a head coach. The best thing for Greg Robinson might be to sit back and continue to learn from the veterans on the St. Louis Rams offensive line. When he is ready, either through his progression as a pass protector or by necessity, due to injury, he will get his time to shine in the starting lineup.

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