Monday, May 24, 2010
By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

While the youth movement at Russell Training Center has been in full force the better part of the past two seasons, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has maintained that adding veteran help would only come if it makes sense for the team on the field and in the locker room.

In a free agent market mostly devoid of strong veteran options, there was one player that couldn’t have made more sense for the Rams. Enter defensive tackle Fred Robbins.

“(He’s) experienced,” Spagnuolo said. “The guys that can show the younger guys how to be a pro and I’m not just talking about practicing, all the things that you do in between – that’s just as important as anything.”

Nearly from the moment he signed a three-year deal with the Rams on March 8, Robbins has understood and embraced the role he will undertake in his time in St. Louis.

At the top of that list is bringing the many lessons Robbins learned from Spagnuolo when Spagnuolo was his defensive coordinator in New York for two seasons.

There, Robbins played an integral part of a dominant defensive line that helped the Giants to a Super Bowl title. All told, he started 63 games in six seasons in New York after coming into the league as a second-round pick by Minnesota.

Robbins brings that experience along with his knowledge of Spagnuolo’s system to the Rams. And if anybody knows what is expected of him not only in the defense but off the field, it’s Robbins.

“I embrace that,” Robbins said. “I have no problem with that. That’s something he expects from me to just come in and bring overall knowledge and lead by example. That’s something I have done in past years so I have no problem with it and I am comfortable with it.”

Robbins’ overlying comfort level can’t help but be traced directly to his close personal relationship with Spagnuolo.

It was under Spagnuolo’s tutelage that Robbins played some of his best football as he put up a career high in sacks two seasons in a row and was stout against the run.

Even after Spagnuolo departed to become the head coach of the Rams before last season, Robbins says he kept tabs on how his former coach was doing.

“Anytime you get someone who goes from one of the coordinators to being a head coach you wish them the best, especially someone well respected (like Spagnuolo),” Robbins said. “You don’t want to see someone go through the hard times. It’s more than football sometimes.”

When Robbins hit the free agent market, it was clear he was at the top of the Rams’ wish list. And despite the team’s struggles in 2009, the feeling was mutual.

“Spags is a great guy, well respected and we had some good years the two years I played for him,” Robbins said. “That was pretty much the main thing. Things happen in this business; I thought it was a good fit for me.”

Robbins’ comfort level as one of the elder statesmen of the Rams defensive line has been readily apparent in just a short period of time. The Rams completed their third OTA on Monday afternoon and Robbins has already set about setting the proper example for his younger linemates.

Included in the group looking to Robbins to lead are younger tackles such as Darell Scott and Leger Douzable whom Robbins has already made it a point to help show the ropes before, during and after practice.

“We have got a bunch of young guys and that’s a good thing,” Robbins said. “Bringing in someone who has been in the system and successful, I feel I can bring a lot to the table. I can let people know how the coaches want stuff done upfront.”

Of course, Robbins and the Rams expect much more from him than just intangibles during the life of his contract.

In his 10 years in the NFL, Robbins has posted 356 tackles, 28.5 sacks, three interceptions, five fumble recoveries and 19 passes defended in 149 games.

For the Rams, he will be asked to come in and contribute right away, likely in a starting spot at tackle next to Clifton Ryan. While Robbins has some pass rush skills, his first priority will be helping the Rams improve their run defense.

“In the NFL, you have got to be able to stop the run,” Robbins said. “If you can’t stop the run, you are not going to be successful at all. I can help improve on that.”

At 33, Robbins is by far the most experienced of the Rams defensive tackles but part of his role in setting the tone for his teammates on the interior is setting the right example.

Robbins has come into Rams camp in excellent shape and says he has learned through the years that the older you get, the harder you have to work to maintain a high level of energy and play.

“The older you get, you have just got to play it a lot smarter,” Robbins said. “Just take care of your body, more so during the season and offseason, just staying fit and staying into it.”

To that end, Robbins has taken it upon himself to watch his diet, consulting a nutritionist and ensuring that he’s putting the right types of things in his body. Listed at 6’4, 317 pounds, Robbins wants to make sure that is solid weight so that he can indeed hold up against the run well into the fourth quarter of games.

“I think if you asked him, he’d say the same things that his expectations are high because he’s always played at a high level,” Spagnuolo said. “Right now, he’s doing a great job with what he’s done in the offseason as far as, you know, what he’s doing with his body; putting the right things in. He looks in good shape. He kids with me all the time, he always tells me he’s got a six-pack and stuff, but he’s done a nice job. He’s a quality veteran.”