Brian Robison's soft Texas drawl is calming but deceptive. At first you think the Vikings' left defensive end is cool, maybe even laid back.
This is deceiving.
Listen to a practice sometime, when that drawl turns into an incessant chirp. Then watch the intensity. "I've been going against him for three-plus years now," said right offensive tackle Phil Loadholt. "Every year it seems he gets better at something."
Or simply bring up the subject of playing time. Talk this camp has been of using a deep rotation to keep defensive linemen fresh. So, Brian, what do you think?
"They're going to have to pull teeth to get me out of the game," Robison said, the drawl acquiring an edge.
Robison waited a long time to get into the starting lineup. Drafted out of the University of Texas in the fourth round in 2007, Robison spent his first four seasons mainly as an effective but situational pass rusher, waiting for his chance to be a full-time starter.
It came last season. Having signed a three-year, $14.1 million contract, and with Ray Edwards gone, Robison was inserted into the starting lineup and responded with 4 1/2 sacks in the first five games. There was a midseason lull, but Robison finished strong, ending up with career highs in sacks (eight) and forced fumbles (three), and he was second on the team with 40 quarterback hurries.
You might think going from full- to part-time would have hindered Robison as a pass rusher. Not at all, he said. Indeed, starting and playing the majority of the snaps only made his pass rushing more diverse.
It's the game within the game. When Robison was a situational guy, he'd come in and, usually, use his speed to try to pressure the quarterback.
"Once you get into a situation where you're rushing a guy 30, 40 times a game, it's definitely about setting things up," Robison said. "You might lose one or two times on a speed rush just to be able to set up a spin or something like that."
Robison's edge speed is the first thing you notice. He's 6-3, 259 pounds, not huge by NFL standards, but much of that weight runs from Robison's hips through his lower back.
A natural knee bend allows Robison to get leverage on much bigger tackles, allowing him to get to an inside move or use a bull rush, should a tackle play him for an outside rush. The powerful torso that made Robison a national-caliber shot-putter in college translates well to the trenches of an NFL game, allowing him to be stout against the run.
"The thing he can do is turn quickly from speed to power," Loadholt said.
After a strong camp, it appears Robison is ready to take another step up the statistical ladder. Loadholt has seen the improvement. Fellow defensive end Jared Allen has, too. Earlier in camp, Allen predicted great things for Robison.
"He's a double-digit sack guy," Allen said. "I think he's a 10-plus-sack guy every year. You get that kind of production out of both sides, and they have to choose who they're going to block."
Brendan Daly has seen the leap in Robison's game, too. Daly, the team's new defensive line coach, was assistant line coach with the team from 2006-08. He reviewed film of the 2011 season.
"I saw a guy who had matured and developed as a player," Daly said. "I was pleasantly surprised, for sure."
Robison won't go into specific numbers, but he expects improvement, too.
"I'm very critical of myself," he said. "Even as good a year as I had last year, I wasn't happy with it. I don't feel I left plays out on the field from a lack of hustle, but I left some out there, where I felt if I had done one or two things better I could have been there a step faster."
Robison has even more to play for this year. His wife, Jayme, recently had their first child, Madelyn. If it was hard getting him off the field before, just try now.
"You're no longer playing for yourself," he said. "You're playing for your family. I have a little girl, and she's the light of my eye, and I'm going to play every snap for her. That guy across from me is going to reap the consequences of that, because now I'm trying to take care of my little girl, and he won't stop me from doing that."