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The Lion Heart of Football

Jun 22, 2006 at 6:48 PM

The San Francisco 49ers suddenly passed on USC safety/linebacker Darnell Bing in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft after a lot of hype and speculation that the 49ers were from many experts point of view considering. Instead, the 49ers made a choice that proved to be an athlete with an abundance of choices on his resume.

The San Francisco 49ers with the 100th overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft chose Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson. Here is an athlete that defines all there is to being a college type of player and a man among boys in a college world where the only proving ground is out on the football field in front of your peers.

Michael Robinson has done it all at Penn State and has been asked to do it all on more than one occasion. He can become a variety of different roles that the 49ers may be looking at him for. He could be the third-down running back, or he could convert to being a talented wide receiver.

Although he starred as a quarterback in college and literally threw all of Penn State on his shoulders in its football program, his real talent is being able to convert to almost anything you want him to be barring his religion.

“You feel good about (Robinson). You have 90 percent of the player you are looking for because you have the attitude, the toughness, the intelligence,” said Scot McCloughan, the 49er’s director of player personnel. “Now the 10 percent you don’t know is about the conversion. (But) you know he’s going to do everything he can to make the conversion.”

What really caught the eyes and ears of Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan about Michael Robinson was his utter determination to move Penn State into contention in the Big 10 Conference.

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno one of the most revered names in all of college football history up until this very day believes Michael Robinson is one of the best football athletes he has ever witnessed or coached.

Back in the fall of 2005, Joe Paterno volunteered, “It would be tough for me to tell you that there’s a better quarterback around than Michael Robinson. I know there are guys at Texas (Young) and I know there are guys at Southern Cal (Matt Leinart). But what Michael Robinson has brought to this football team, his senior year is leadership and everything else.” Everything else?

“Michael Robinson has been the heart of this football team,” Paterno has said, “and hasn’t gotten anywhere near the notoriety nationally that he should. He does it all.”

And indeed he was the heart and soul of the Penn State Nittany Lions. He was the spokesperson for head coach Joe Paterno and the focal point on a team thought to have lost its glamour and touch on reality within the Big 10 Conference of champions.

If you want a history lesson on Michael Robinson’s toughness as a player my thoughts go back to a college game last year against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

The collision on the field was like a sharp crack of lightening hitting a tree. There it was 6-foot-2, 210-pound Minnesota safety Brandon Owens barreling down on 6-2, 218-pound Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson near the sideline on a late Saturday afternoon.

All that were sitting in and around Beaver Stadium in unison winked, as Owens unloaded, lowering his head and shoulder squarely against Robinson. But Robinson remained standing, while the hitter crumpled to the ground instantly. In a matter of fact, Owens took several minutes just to get to his feet and never returned to the game.

The effect on the crowd was astonishing. The effect it had on the Penn State Nittany Lions on the sidelines though was infectious. It validated everything in the mindset of his teammates of what Michael Robinson is all about. He is all about being a leading contributor to his team and putting the team first in all instances.

“That was the hardest hit of the game, by far,” said Penn State linebacker Paul Posiuszny, a formidable hitter himself, eyes lighting up. “Michael’s a tough kid, but that was an unbelievable hit. That just fires up the whole team when you see your quarterback throwing his body out there on the line like that.”

“I didn’t think he was going to hit me that hard,” Robinson recalled. “It kind of scared me a little bit. I saw him and I was like, 'Let me just buckle up, hold on to the ball and try to stay up.’ I didn’t know he was going to go down like that. I hope he’s O.K.”

Robinson went on to set the tone for the remainder of the rest of the game. He had a career-high 112 yards rushing just as much as with his hard shot against Brandon Owens. He went on to total 287 yards of offense on that Saturday, that led to the quick-striking Nittany Lion offense on three drives of 13 plays and, most importantly, he never turned the ball over for the first time of the season.

“I think with the caliber of people we played,” said Penn State coach Joe Paterno, “this was probably his best game.”

Already he has established himself as a selfless person. He proves his worth to his teammates in each and every game and is willing to lay it all out in a personal way to achieve self-satisfaction for himself and second from his teammates.

So far in 49ers mini-camps and practice facility workouts he has been experimented with as a running back and a third-down specialist. If for some odd reason this doesn’t work out, he’ll see action at fullback, receiver and halfback if need be.

Out of two drafts run by Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan, the 49ers have selected 20 players. As many as six of those have played or will play at a different position than they did in college.

In this year’s draft class alone, first and fifth round picks Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson will convert from defensive end to linebacker, and sixth round pick Delanie Walker will attempt a very controversial move from small-college wide receiver to a modified fullback position.

The year before that, seventh-round choice Patrick Estes moved from tight end to offensive tackle, and fifth round choice Rasheed Marshall turned from quarterback at West Virginia to a wide receiver and return specialist.

The San Francisco 49ers don’t plan on using Robinson as a quarterback. In fact it was his running skills that caught the eye of Mike Nolan and the rest of the coaching staff.

Robinson was the Big 10 offensive player of the year after passing for 2,340 yards and 17 touchdowns, but Nolan was impressed mostly by his leadership skills and his versatility to change.

Robinson ran 163 times for 806 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and also played slot receiver, flanker and punt return specialist. “We introduced him as a running back, and we think he’s best suited for that,” Nolan said. “He’s willing to play any position.”

“I think for you to be successful on any level you have to be a football player first. You can’t just limit yourself to whatever role you want to play,” said Robinson.

I believe Mike Nolan loves a player that is extremely versatile and is able to be a multiple threat whenever he takes the field to throw off one’s defense. Michael Robinson has seen time already in mini-camps and practice drills on special teams with trick plays and punt return abilities.

Michael Robinson saw a lot of work in the off-season through mini-camps and workouts because of the recovering injuries to both Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore. He has seen the bulk of those duties go his way and the coaching staff has been impressed thus far from what they’ve seen already.

“The offense I ran in college as quarterback, I did a lot of running there,” Robinson said following a morning practice. “I took a lot of hits. All during my career, I’ve been playing some variation of running back and carrying the ball. I’m used to the ball in my hands.”

Here is the tale of the tape on Penn State’s Michael Robinson who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 218-pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.70. This is a player that has learned the game of football from many different positions all of which he has excelled at.

Strengths: He shows tremendous athleticism and versatility; played quarterback, wide receiver and running back in college. Has nice size and a strong build. Has strong legs, excellent body control and change-of-direction skills.

Is tough and durable. Showed natural, but raw receiving and return skills at the Senior Bowl, his first work at those positions in some time. Is smart and reads coverage’s well. Is a hard worker who will put in the effort to learn the routes and develop his skills.

Weaknesses: Lacks experience at wide receiver. Is a developmental project. Must improve his straight-line speed. Must learn how to run routes, read zone coverage’s and catch passes in stride and in traffic. Has limited experience on special teams.

Bottom line: Robinson would prefer to play quarterback but shows a positive attitude and a willingness to convert to something else. Expect him to be a willing contributor on special teams while he reaches his potential as a receiver.

Joe Paterno, who by the way is the second leading winning coach in Division I-A history and winner of two national championships admitted late last season that Michael Robinson had been one of the very best football players he’d coached at Penn State in the 56 years he has been there.

Michael knows that he has natural talent and has the attitude to go with that. As a 49er he is excited to be a part of the NFL. He will add a new dimension to what the 49ers have already added to their offensive arsenal. So far he has been wearing the number 35, a running back number, and that’s where the 49ers see him as being the most noticeable threat.

“I feel like I’m going into a situation where my talents will be utilized,” said Robinson. “Norv Turner is a great coach and takes advantages of mismatches. He wants me in a position to create and make plays for our team.”

“I know that Norv is very innovative offensively and players have always had success in his system. I was very excited when I heard that I’d have the chance to work with him.”

When he’s not out on the field or studying his playbook, he spends a lot of time reading and dissecting sports broadcasters. Interesting isn’t it? He has a degree in Advertising and Public Relations and a second undergraduate degree in Journalism, which lead him to his interest in these areas.

I can see Michael Robinson being in direct competition with Maurice Hicks and Terry Jackson. I also see him even being used as competition against the weak unit of fullbacks we have in veteran Chris Hetherington and recently acquired veteran former Houston Texan Moran Norris.

Special teams will definitely be a place where we see him the most in 2006. But look for great possibilities for him to shine and breakout of the background he’ll be inserted in right from the get go.

Michael Robinson is and wants to be a playmaker. We need more than one to turn our franchise around, but he’ll be the heart of the lion we’ll need to grind through the mediocrity we don’t want to accept.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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