BY JIM THOMAS | Posted: Thursday, October 7, 2010


On his website, Fred Robbins Official Website, is a feature called "Ask Fred," in which fans can e-mail questions to the veteran Rams defensive tackle.

Interesting, because Robbins holds another version of Ask Fred just about every day at Rams Park. The 33-year-old Robbins is surrounded by pups in the locker room. Six of his nine defensive linemates had two years or less of NFL experience entering this season. Three are rookies. And they have plenty of questions.

"It's like on pass rush, or run block situations, he'll give me his ins and outs whatever he knows," rookie defensive end Eugene Sims said. "And I just take it and try to use it."

Or they may ask how to watch game film. What to look for on tape. How to stay healthy. How to eat right. And when Robbins talks ...

"It's short but sweet," Sims said. "He knows what he's talking about. He ain't been in it for 11 years for nothing. He knows what he's doing."

There's personality behind the presence.

"He's just a happy, energetic kind of guy," safety Craig Dahl said. "Always in a good mood. Always willing to pick up a teammate if he sees someone struggling. Fred's just a big jolly guy."

But Santa Claus is a big, jolly guy. And Santa can't play defensive tackle in the NFL. Robbins can. In fact, he's doing it better than anyone perhaps even coach Steve Spagnuolo expected back in March when the Rams signed him to a free-agent deal.

On a star-studded New York Giants defensive line that included luminaries such as Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiori, Robbins was the unheralded anchor in the middle during the team's Super Bowl championship run three seasons ago.

But then Robbins started to break down. He battled his way through 2008 with two broken hands and a shoulder injury, then had offseason knee surgery. Last season, he was replaced in the Giants' starting lineup over the final third of the season.

So far in St. Louis, Robbins has been revitalized. At the defensive tackle position, stats rarely tell the story. By the numbers, Robbins has nine tackles, one sack, three quarterback hits and two pass breakups this season. (OK, and that costly shove of Bruce Gradkowski in Game 2 at Oakland that resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty.)

But take it from Dahl, who also was Robbins' teammate for two seasons with the Giants:

"You would never know Fred's as old as he is. He uses a lot of his experience to his advantage, too. He was able to read that screen last week. Sniff that out."

With the Seahawks desperately trying to get back in the game in the fourth quarter, Robbins dropped speedy Leon Washington in his tracks for no gain on a screen pass from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

"And he also had the 'heads up' to grab that ball up in the air after James (Hall) knocked it out of (Hasselbeck's) hand," Dahl said. "It was just a great play, and great athleticism. He's been all over the place for us on defense."

Robbins' fumble recovery after Hall's sack of Hasselbeck came with 2 minutes to play and represented Seattle's last gasp. So yes, Robbins definitely looks spry and injury free. Spagnuolo, in the role of superstitious coach, didn't care to discuss Robbins' good health.

"I don't want to jinx anything here, but he's been doing so far, so good," Spagnuolo said Wednesday.

The lure of Spagnuolo, who was Robbins' defensive coordinator for two seasons in New York, is what attracted Robbins to St. Louis last March. As Robbins sees it, Spagnuolo treats his players as people and not just commodities.

"And that makes you want to go out and play for a guy," Robbins said. "A guy that's not just concerned with what you do on the field, but off the field. A guy who cares for your life and well-being. He's well respected throughout the league. We work hard, but he makes it fun doing it."

Robbins also helps make it fun. Like during the searing heat of practices in late spring, when Robbins successfully lobbied the head coach to take a team popsicle break.

"Those hot days, I had to get in Spags' ear," Robbins said. "I mean, they were just sitting over there in the cooler in the cafeteria. You might as well put 'em to use on the field."

At 6-4, 325 pounds, Robbins gives the Rams a physical presence they have been lacking inside for years, and the best run stuffer they've had since Ryan Pickett. Robbins showed during training camp and the preseason that he could still hold up against the run.

And as the coaches say, he still has some "juice" as a pass rusher. He's savvy enough to take advantage of weaknesses in an opponent's game and did so last Sunday against Seattle's interior offensive line.

"I still feel like I got a lot left," Robbins simply says.

His leadership on the field, and in the locker room, is evident. Particularly when it's time to Ask Fred.

"Fred is a great personality first off for this defense and for this locker room," said defensive end Chris Long, who regularly teases or torments Robbins. "He's another great veteran that you can learn a lot from. But he's still playing at a really high level.

"It's pretty unbelievable the way he's playing and the way James (Hall) is playing. They're playing like they're my age, 25 years old. Man, they're out there disrupting things, getting after the quarterback, stopping the run."

And lately, winning games.