Mark Robinson's rapid transformation from running back at Mississippi in the SEC to starting inside linebacker in the NFL has included a constant the Steelers' covet.
"The fact that he strikes people is an absolute bonus," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin maintained today. "We love it."
That, as much as anything else, explains the start Robinson made at inside linebacker alongside Robert Spillane last Sunday night in Baltimore.
It was Robinson's first NFL start and just the third NFL game in which he'd been an active participant.
Prior to that Robinson had played five special teams snaps on Oct. 16 against Tampa Bay and seven plays with the defense on Dec. 18 at Carolina.
This time, he played 50 percent of the defensive snaps (26) and turned them into five solo tackles and seven total stops in the Steelers' 16-13, come-from-behind victory over the Ravens.
M&T Bank Stadium in a had-to-have-it game against a bitter division rival was a long way from Ole Miss, where Robinson had played running back for the Rebels before converting to linebacker in 2021.
But Austin maintained the Steelers saw Robinson coming along the way to selecting him on the seventh round of the draft last April.
"In the evaluation process when he came up we watched him, we knew he was basically a one-year player," at linebacker, Austin said. "You follow his backstory and then you watch how he played, you go 'Ok,' you like that kid, he's got some intangible stuff that you like. And then when you get him here you really like him. He's wide-eyed, always ready, ready to go. And then when you get to camp and you put the pads on that's when you really started to like him.
"You knew what he was doing, he had some learning to do like all rookies, gotta figure it out. But you saw he had an appetite for contact, an appetite for the game, he loves it. That's when it really came to you that he had a chance."
Robinson, 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds, got his first significant chance against the run-heavy Ravens.
How often the Steelers continue to turn to him is to be determined.
"Right now I don't want to put too much on him," Austin said. "It was one game that he really kind of showed up and made some good plays.
"It's like anybody, he's gotta continue to put some things together and continue to grow as a football player overall. Not just being able to run and hit somebody, he's gotta understand scheme and what you're trying to do and how to get it done and all the different things that go along with being an NFL player. We'll find out as we move along but we like the way he's headed."
Robinson's playing time against the Ravens came at the expense of former first-round pick Devin Bush, who didn't appear on defense until inside linebacker Myles Jack left the game in the second quarter with a groin injury. Bush wound up playing just five defensive snaps (10 percent).
Bush had started the first 14 games and had played 100 percent of the defensive snaps on Nov. 28 at Indianapolis.
"Devin's a pro," Austin said. "Nobody likes to be kinda not in there as much as they're used to being but he handled it like a true pro.
"We're gonna need Devin to play depending upon what package we're in. That was pretty specific last week, what we were doing at Baltimore. I would expect you'd probably see Devin a little bit more this week."