How Worried Should the Rams Be About OL Greg Robinson's Early Struggles?

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How Worried Should the Rams Be About OL Greg Robinson's Early Struggles?
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After making Greg Robinson the second overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams turned more than a few heads across the NFL by declaring their intention to move the Auburn star from tackle to guard this year.

Now, those same heads are shaking even more furiously, because the early reports about that transition from the Gateway City haven't been positive.

It isn't helping that the source of those reports is, in many cases, Robinson himself.

Back on June 6, Robinson conceded that the move inside was "kinda tough, but it's coming slowly," according to Nate Latsch of Fox Sports Midwest. Still, in most respects, Robinson sounded like any young player making the switch from college to the NFL:

Every day I've been improving. I would say I'm a little rusty at guard, but I'm getting better every day.

I've just been getting to know a few of the guys on the O-line. Jake (Long) has been really helping me. Scott (Wells), Rodger (Saffold) and Joe (Barksdale), they are all real cool guys and they are really just trying to help me out and bring me along to help me get accustomed to the offense.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and not only had Robinson's struggles continued, but as Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com reports, some of Robinson's optimism appears to have been replaced with frustration:

I didn't know what to expect, honestly. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I like to challenge myself. It's something I want to do and just stand out to the coaches and let them be comfortable with their choice.

It's just everything happens faster inside. Outside you have a little more time to kick. The guys are faster but these guys are just quick and trained to rush the passer. It's just about keeping my feet working and knowing when to pull.

Right now it's a lot of thinking going on, it causes me to move a little slower. Once I get up to speed, I can move with the snap count and stuff like that.

Well, there you go. That was literally all it took for some pundits to proclaim that the sky was falling at the Edward Jones Dome:

Granted, no one wants to hear that a team's first-round pick is scuffling, especially when that player was a top-five selection. But there are any number of reasons why patience truly is a virtue where Robinson is concerned.

First off, it's hardly a stunner for a first-year offensive lineman to come out of the gate slow. For every Joe Thomas who comes out punching people in the mouth, there's an Eric Fisher who spends his rookie year spinning on his back like a breakdancing ninja turtle.

Coincidentally, Fisher, the top pick in last year's NFL draft, also switched positions as a rookie, moving to right tackle with the Kansas City Chiefs a season ago after manning the left side at Central Michigan.

Then there's the matter of Robinson himself. If there was a prevailing knock on the 6'5", 332-pounder leading up to May's NFL draft, it was that Robinson was raw as a lineman.

Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com wrote prior to the draft that Robinson "still must improve his hand use, footwork and technique." Rob Rang of CBS Sports said that "Robinson's relative inexperience (especially in pass protection) appears to be the only thing that could keep him from earning a blue chip grade."

Making the move to a position Robinson hasn't played since high school isn't going to make the leap to the NFL any easier, although offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told Wagoner he's pleased with Robinson's progress to this point:

I think it's going to be an adjustment. He's doing good. New system, new position...it's going to take a little time. You can see out there how naturally talented he is, how strong he is, how athletic he is, but there's been some growing pains and there will be.

Then there's the matter of that new system.

To say that the St. Louis playbook is more complicated than Auburn's is like saying that the Los Angeles Yellow Pages is bigger than Fargo's.

It's true, but not completely accurate.

Robinson admitted it's been a challenge, according to Latsch:

We had a select few (plays at Auburn), but it worked. This is a full playbook and it's something that I'm really going to have to work on and really learn in and out, because I'm sure they are not going to play nobody that's not ready. But they threw me in the fire, and that's something that I'm going to have to get used to real fast.

Once again, none of this should really come as a surprise, and added together it presents a scenario where it's just going to take time for Robinson to acclimate to his new team and role.

The thing is, time isn't really an issue at this point.

As jittery as NFL freaks far and wide (this writer included) may be getting for that magical Thursday evening in September when the 2014 season gets underway, the fact remains that we're still in June.

There are more than two months between now and the Rams' September 7 opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

We haven't reached training camp yet. OTAs, in shorts and shells, are only going to magnify the flaws in Robinson's game.

Once players start getting dirty, Robinson is going to be able to better show off the jaw-dropping blend of size, strength and speed that got him drafted so early.

There's a reason why the Rams pondered this switch to begin with. As Rang wrote, Robinson "latches on and controls as a run-blocker with good hand placement, easy knee bend and awesome power to simply maul opponents, often driving them yards off the line of scrimmage."

There's also a bit of a precedent in St. Louis. After 3.5 up-and-down seasons at tackle for the Rams, the team flipped Saffold inside midseason last year.

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The 26-year-old finished the year as the team's top-rated guard at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and as a top-20 guard overall. It was enough for the Rams to re-up Saffold for five years and $32 million after his free-agent deal with the Oakland Raiders fell through.

Robinson told Latsch he intends to use that to his advantage as well. "Yeah, he (Saffold) told me it was hard for him at the beginning, but it's something that he got accustomed to just over repetition and practice," Robinson says. "I think sooner or later it's going to come."

On some level, it's understandable that Rams fans are a little freaked out by Robinson's early struggles. After all, the last time the Rams spent the second overall pick on a raw but athletic tackle (Jason Smith in 2009), it didn't work out even a little bit.

However, we've only just begun to scratch the surface of determining what Robinson is capable of as a football player. What we do know is that players his size with sub-five-second 40 speed and ridiculous 35-inch arms don't come along every day.

If Robinson is a turnstile in September, then you can start freaking out, but for now, be patient.

Like Robinson said, sooner or later it's going to come.

 

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.

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