Alabama’s Robinson a huge addition to Lions’ DL

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
A’Shawn Robinson shares the stage with Roger Goodell and former Lions receiver Herman Moore on Friday night.

Allen Park — Eric Ebron was one of the many people to make a joke about new Lions defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson looking much older than 21.

For the Lions’ second-round pick, such comments are hardly new.

“It’s funny, they always joke around, call me, ‘Old man,’” Alabama’s Robinson said on a teleconference after being selected Friday night. “I just take it how it is. Some people have that problem, looking older than what they are.”

Growing up, Robinson spent a few years playing with kids three or four years older than him, including joining his 8-year-old brother’s football team as a 4-year-old. Now, he’ll see how he fits in the NFL, where he’ll again be one of the youngest players on the field — even if he looks like one of the oldest.

In a draft class loaded with talented defensive tackles, the Lions added a player in the second round that many people expected to go in the first round. Coming into the draft, the Lions were looking to solidify the interior of their defensive line for the future, and Robinson should provide some long-term help.

The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Robinson is an imposing man, looking incredibly lean for someone with his mass. He also provides length with 34 ½-inch arms and should immediately help in the run game, though he still needs to improve as a pass rusher. However, Alabama uses a scheme with controlled rushes from the tackles, who aren’t supposed to get after the quarterback each play, so there’s a chance Robinson has more to show in terms of getting upfield.

And in the Lions’ scheme, Robinson will have plenty of opportunities to attack, and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek will surely be in his ear if he falters. Robinson said his visit to Detroit earlier this month was the best pre-draft visit he took, and he really liked the passionate Kocurek, who was also at his pro day.

"Quite honestly, he was the top defensive tackle on the board at that time," Lions general manager Bob Quinn said. "It was, I’d say, an easy pick to make."

Robinson was a consensus All-American in 2015 when he had 46 tackles, 7.5 for loss and three sacks. He was at the heart of an Alabama defense, against which teams could hardly run the ball, a major factor in the team winning the national championship last season.

In taking Robinson and Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker, the Lions have already taken two players who won national titles in college. Quinn also chose to add players who can help the Lions in the trenches a year after blocking issues and run defense were major problems during a 1-7 start.

Robinson started playing football at age 4, joining his brother Andre’s team. The young boy quickly learned the dangers of the game as another player flipped him when he was playing running back, a move that made him want to quit. Instead, Robinson moved to defense because his mom wanted him to keep playing.

Of course, Robinson playing football became a demanding experience for his mother. After starting with his brother, Robinson then joined his peers, but few people believed he was in the right age group.

“Yeah, I had to sit out a couple of games because my mom couldn’t get off work,” he said. “So, eventually she just started scheduling around it (and) she was at every game. She couldn’t miss one single game. She had to bring my birth certificate every single time.”

Getting to know new Lion A'Shawn Robinson

Finally, when Robinson turned 9, he said he started playing with 12- and 13-year-olds, so the birth certificate was no longer necessary.

The Lions re-signed Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker last month and added former Buffalo defensive tackle Stefan Charles, but with all three of them on short-term deals, it was imperative that the team found long-term help.

Like all rookies, Robinson will have to earn a role, but he comes in with the highest expectations of anyone except Ngata, a former two-time All-Pro. Robinson said it’ll be “amazing” to work with someone who’s been as dominant as Ngata. In addition to Robinson and Ngata, Walker, Charles, Caraun Reid and Gabe Wright will be among the players competing for playing time at defensive tackle.

Robinson, who left Alabama with one year of eligibility remaining, started every game the last two seasons for the Crimson Tide. He also contributed significantly in reserve as a true freshman with 38 tackles, eight for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2013.