- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 27, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS — A’Shawn Robinson quickly learned that it wouldn’t have served his team well if he took out the star quarterback, but it didn’t stop him from relentlessly pursing him in practice.

During his freshman season at Alabama, Robinson wasn’t gunning to take out AJ McCarron. The problem was that he only knew one speed, playing with a ruthless aggression that helped him become the No. 1 high school defensive tackle in the country before joining the Crimson Tide.

To say the thought of losing McCarron before his senior season even started did not sit well with coach Nick Saban would be a gross understatement.

“My freshman year when I go there, I wasn’t used to not hitting the quarterback so in practice I used to hit A.J. all the time, and he would get mad,” Robinson said on Friday at the NFL combine.

Saban bellowed four words at Robinson.

“Stay off the quarterback!”

“But I got to hit the quarterback,” Robinson recalled thinking. “If I don’t hit the quarterback in practice how am I gonna hit him in the game? But I know you’re not supposed to do that. Just force of habit. I stopped doing it after my freshman year, but it was a habit.”

From there, the focus became unleashing that aggression on opponents. Robinson made an immediate impact his freshman season and led the Crimson Tide with 5.5 sacks — production he never quite replicated over the next two seasons. He had zero sacks his sophomore season and 3.5 in his junior year before declaring for the NFL draft.

Now Robinson, who is part of a loaded defensive class in this year’s draft, is eager to prove to teams he can be an effective pass rusher in the NFL. At Alabama, Robinson did not have much of a chance to hone his pass-rushing techniques in Saban’s system, which emphasized plugging gaps and pushing the pocket, rather than finishing quarterback hits.

“We played a 4-3 and a 3-4 so we do a little bit of both, but we just don’t shoot upfield,” Robinson said. “But I feel like going to a team I have the ability to actually penetrate the gap and show my athleticism, how I can get to the quarterback much [more] efficiently than I did at Alabama. I feel that I can show that off when a team picks me up. Just get off the blocks faster, stop patty-caking with the offensive linemen and just get off the block and go make the play.”

It is hard to miss Robinson, whose imposing presence is punctuated by his shaved head and healthy beard.

“I don’t really smile too often so people were like, ‘That dude looks old, he looks like he’s about 40 years old!” said the 20-year-old Robinson. “I like it. It’s cool looking old.”

At the combine, Robinson measured at 6-foot-3 with 34.5-inch arms and weighed in at 307 pounds. His strong base, matched with his strength and power, makes it difficult for opposing offensive linemen to hold their blocks.

Ranked as the top defensive tackle in this year’s draft, it is unlikely that Robinson will be available at No. 21 when the Washington Redskins pick. The Redskins view the defensive line as an area where they need to make significant upgrades this offseason, so it is hardly a surprise they had formal meetings with both Robinson and his teammate, defensive tackle Jarran Reed, this week.

Whichever team drafts Robinson, who sees himself thriving as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, will get a player with a tireless effort, which is what he thinks will help him standout in Indianapolis.

“Give great effort,” Robinson. “Play to the best of [my] ability every single play. So they’re going to get all of that. I’m not gonna give them less than that.”

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