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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Brian Robison redefining his game, not unlike the Packers’ Clay Matthews

By Andrew Krammer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Brian Robison has embraced a changing role that helps the playoff-bound Vikings, but may be hurting his individual numbers.

The Vikings will compete for the NFC North crown on Sunday night in Green Bay. Whether they win or lose, they’ve already brought the black and blue back to the division with coach Mike Zimmer’s defense serving as backbone for an already 10-win season.

And it’s a disruptive line, accounting for eight of nine sacks in the last two wins, leading the Vikings’ defensive resurgence. They’ve done so despite three of the four starters missing time due to injuries.

Entering his 49th consecutive start on Sunday, Robison has been the consistent presence – morphing into whatever the Vikings need to plug the gaps. He’s seen a similar change in the Packers’ defense, as one of their sack masters moved to inside linebacker this summer.

“A guy I have a ton of respect for is Clay Matthews,” Robison told 1500 ESPN last week. “You see the same thing out of him. Used to be an edge rusher type guy, and now he’s playing middle linebacker and doing things like that. His sack numbers aren’t as high, but he’s still making plays to allow his team to win ball games.

“So I got a lot of respect for a guy who does that, especially at his level, the way he was playing, and really taking a step back to help his team. I got tremendous respect for that, because that’s what I’m doing here.”

Robison, 32, was asked to overhaul his game when the Vikings hired Zimmer to remake a porous defense prior to the 2014 season. This year, injuries to defensive end Everson Griffen and defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd have forced the Vikings’ coaching staff to be even more creative with their approach.

To relieve a banged-up interior of the line, Robison has shifted inside on obvious passing downs with rookie Danielle Hunter coming off the bench to fill his end spot.

“It keeps offenses off balance,” Floyd said. “A guy of his speed and his stature that can be so versatile to help the team in so many different ways. It’s just beneficial to what we can do, the different packages we can create from that. It’s good that he can contribute so much for us.”

Robison has revisited old tricks, giving the Vikings different looks on defense by standing up as a rushing linebacker. Before Zimmer’s arrival, Robison hadn’t done that since he was in college at the University of Texas. “Doing all sorts of things like that are definitely not positions to where you’re going to go out there and get a ton of sacks,” Robison said.

“I think Brian has played outstanding the last two weeks, and that’s helped us defensively when we’ve had some of these guys hurt,” Zimmer said.

“He’s a really good athlete. He’s quick, has got good strength and he’s smart – that helps.”

He’s smart enough to know what a team needs to win.

Even though the Vikings were one of the NFL’s worst defensive teams in 2013, Robison had a career year. He earned a four-year, $28 million extension in the middle of the season and finished with a career-high 9.0 sacks. He’s had 9.5 sacks in the two seasons since.

A new coaching staff and new scheme meant personal sacrifices.

Like his teammates, Robison was asked to scrap much of what he’d known under former head coach and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who joined the Vikings as DC in 2007, the same year they drafted Robison in the fourth round (102nd overall).

Zimmer’s tweaked approach largely did away with the wide-angled rushes that former Viking Jared Allen and Robison used to attack passers. Tighter alignments and an emphasis on finding the running back before the quarterback, as well as varied pressure schemes that sacrifice one player to open up lanes for another, means the individual statistics are harder to compile.

For instance, Robison set the pick on a twist that allowed teammate Danielle Hunter to come free and sack Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in the Vikings’ 38-17 win this month.

“Those teams that are very successful put their selfish reasons aside and do what they have to do to help the team,” Robison said. “Do I want to go out and have 12 sacks? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I want to win ball games and I want to bring a Super Bowl trophy to the state of Minnesota.

“Whatever the coaches ask me to do, even if I don’t feel like it’s quite in my wheelhouse, or is going to be conducive for me to have those staggering statistics, it’s really about creating mismatches and allowing our team to be successful.”

When Robison plays on Sunday, he’ll have played in 79 of 80 games since becoming a starter five years ago. First and foremost, he credits his health to “a lot of luck,” but also a daily regimen of recovery, including a two-hour massage therapy session starting each morning before the sun rises on Minnesota.

He swears by cherry juice and protein, but perhaps a willingness to adapt is his best supplement.

As a rookie, Robison recalled getting sage advice from ex-Viking Kevin Williams, who is currently wrapping his 13th NFL season in New Orleans.

“I had it explained to me best,” Robison said. “As soon as you come into the league, the time starts ticking for you to be on your way out. Some just last longer than others.

“They’re always looking for a younger, better version of yourself. You have to do whatever you can do in order to stick around.”

The post Brian Robison redefining his game, not unlike the Packers’ Clay Matthews appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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