Film Study: Why Alabama LT Cam Robinson is the best of the best
Far too often when pundits analyze our great game of college football, transcendent talent in the trenches, particularly the offensive line, is overlooked for the much more visible “skill” position players. For the University of Alabama, most are wondering how the rushing attack will fare with the likes of Altee Tenpenny, Tyren Jones, Bo Scarbrough and DeSherrius Flowers all missing in action — one way or another.
We know that the one-two punch of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake — along with 5-star true freshman Damien Harris — will play a monumental role in the team’s success with their ability to hit the homerun by way of the much-implemented zone-blocking scheme. (Both may add value in the man- and gap-blocking portion of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s playbook, too.)
After the departure of scheme-specific quarterback Blake Sims, who exceeded expectations with his ability to navigate the quick-passing game and manufacture first downs with his legs, the QB position has been a point of contention as many have tied the Tide’s success to fifth-year senior Jacob Coker and redshirt sophomore David Cornwell — both of whom are traditional in the sense that they clearly operate best with downfield concepts from within the pocket.
We know that Kiffin has the ability to oscillate between schemes and concepts and can cater to a QB who needs to work deep to short as opposed to having the quick game open up the vertical allotment of plays.
The receiving targets can all go get it, but they can also make an inch into a mile — in a football sense, of course. Former 5-star recruit Robert Foster appears to have what it takes to operate on an island much like all-world receiver, and future NFL superstar, Amari Cooper did. Additionally, receiving targets ArDarius Stewart, Chris Black, Raheem Falkins, Richard Mullaney and O.J. Howard are all more-than-capable talents.
But none of those aforementioned players can hold a candle to the type of impact franchise left tackle Cam Robinson provides as he is asked to anchor all the concepts I mentioned, and he has done so to darn near perfection.
Not to mention he may be a lock as a top-five pick for the NFL draft in a couple of seasons, and he’s still not generating the type of publicity a franchise player on the top team in existence deserves.
As much pub as former stars Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Trent Richardson receive for the resuscitation of the Alabama program, and deservedly so, much of the praise should go to former No. 1-overall recruit Andre Smith.
The 6’4″, 315-pound Birmingham native’s signing pre-dated head coach Nick Saban’s arrival by one season and culminated with an undefeated 2008 regular season. And when he was chosen as the No. 6-overall player in the NFL Draft, as a true junior, the Saban era officially had its kickstarter for elite prospects.
At the time, under former OC Jim McElwain, the Tide were a pure man-blocking outfit with designs of blowing the opposition off the snap and playing in the second level’s lap. Smith was the ultimate mauler in the run game and was very effective in McElwain’s passing scheme under Saban’s first OC, Major Applewhite.
From there, a similarly rated Cyrus Kouandjio took over the franchise spot on the offensive line when the Tide went to more of a finesse run game under former OC Doug Nussmeier. Kouandjio, who was a prime candidate to man the LT spot for Auburn University’s zone-blocking outfit, was more of an athlete who could work up to the second-level and get out in space.
His pass-blocking prowess was top-notch as he possessed feet much like a tight end. At 6’7″, 315 pounds, he had the prototypical size that NFL teams covet, but he also reportedly had knee issues that hampered his draft prospects, and he was ultimately drafted in the second round (44th overall) by the Buffalo Bills in the 2014 draft.
So when Robinson signed on, giving Bama its third straight No. 1 recruit at the position, it became easy to overlook just how great this kid is — especially with the amount of talent surrounding him. But Robinson may be the best out of all three and adds some serious scheme versatility for a coordinator who lauds himself on being multiple.
The Tide’s schedule is loaded with premier edge-rushers who are potential top-five picks in their own right — none more so than Tennessee’s Derek Barnett (10 sacks) and Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett (11.5 sacks), both of whom are true rising sophomores like Robinson.
Here we see a couple of notable things: Robinson’s superior technique and his sticktoitiveness.
After getting out quite well in his kick-phase, complete with proper knee bend, he stoned Barnett. But as the QB waited for his target to uncover, the play became extended and Robinson had to redirect the Barnett on the rebound.
Robinson’s mechanics are virtually flawless as he usually displays great hand-placement by getting arm extension on the inside of the opposition’s pads; he’s rarely caught with his feet together.
Look at how Robinson navigated this physical “Pin & Pull” outside-zone stretch play; he’s such a great athlete that playing him out in space only adds to his value. The name of the game is to form creases for the back to hit by washing the defensive line down toward the sideline; Robinson did that and then some.
With the Tide’s roster full of backs who excel behind area blocking, generating physicality out of a more finesse scheme is of the utmost. Having Robinson anchor strong-side pulls adds that physical element the Tide so desperately needs.
This particular play has to stand out for anyone wondering the type of athlete it takes to be an upper-echelon talent as an exterior lineman: Robinson, theoretically lined up as a tight end, received a screen pass and got north/south in a hurry — standing up a host of defenders who were trying to corral him.
How many LT’s do you know who would be intentionally put in that position by a coaching staff?
Robinson has all the makings of being a potential top-five pick in a couple of seasons, and he will start to generate the publicity he deserves as a true freshman who, virtually, shut down every edge-player put in front of him. He is masterful with man- or zone-blocking concepts and has some of the best mechanics you’ll see in pass-protection.
Pretty soon we’re going to have to start referring to Bama as “LT University.”