The Lions Way
As the summer goes on and I continue to work my way through a self-imposed reading list, the title I am currently on is Michael Holley’s War Room. Aside from the tales about scouting and organizational structure building, two things from the first half of the book so far struck me as particularly relevant to the Greg Robinson trade. First, the dominant characteristic of the method of scouting and player evaluation which was passed on to Scott Pioli, Josh McDaniels, Thomas Dimitroff, and countless others who have come up through Belichick’s organizations since his initial run with the Cleveland Browns is to evaluate relative to the current roster. The 64 dollar question that Bill Belichick wants answered is this: How does this player compare to the guy on our roster whose job he would be doing, and would acquiring the player improve what we have there?
When determining if the trade for Greg Robinson was a good one to make for the Detroit Lions, the question in Bob Quinn’s mind no doubt focuses on how Robinson could improve on the player whose spot on the 53-man roster the new acquisition would actually be competing for. While the immediate need for the Lions is for a starting left tackle to play until Taylor Decker’s torn labrum heals, it is not Decker’s spot on the roster that the former Ram is trying to secure. Obviously, it is not the spot of starting right tackle Rick Wagner, either.
Whose roster spot?
No, the players he is going up against are Cornelius Lucas and Corey Robinson for the fourth tackle spot alongside GOOD JOB JOE DAHL. That is the relevant thing to weigh when looking at whether Greg Robinson improves the roster at the price of a conditional sixth-round draft pick and $3.3 million in cap obligation.
Stop and think for a moment at what that says about Detroit’s depth at tackle: those two depth guys not named Joe Dahl are the same ones who were on the roster when our Alex Reno said the way to fix the offensive tackle dumpster fire in Detroit was to go big or go home in 2016. Well, Bob Quinn went big and drafted not one but two of them in Decker and Dahl. Assuming Dahl is not ready for prime time, that means we are back at dumpster fire-esque depth behind a torn labrum and the guy who replaced Riley Reiff.
Okay fine, Tony Hills is also in that equation, I suppose.
Very early in the offseason—before Rick Wagner had been signed in free agency—one of the items on my wish list for Detroit was a veteran swing tackle to push and/or replace the Mayhew-era depth tackles already on the roster. The name I kept coming up with as an example of what I thought would be nice for such a role was former right tackle Mike Remmers from Carolina. Although the starter on the right side, Remmers actually took over in spots for Michael Oher on the left side. In the end, the Minnesota Vikings signed Remmers to play opposite Riley Reiff.
The Rams started the job already
Back in March of this year, the Los Angeles front office let it be known that Greg Robinson was no longer the starting left tackle by signing Andrew Whitworth to a huge free agent deal. So what was the plan for the ousted former second-overall pick?
McVay said the Rams thought Robinson would handle the switch in sides just fine.
"It's certainly a challenge," McVay said. "That's one of the things you appreciate about a swing tackle, those guys that can play both on the left and the right. ... I think it's more just getting a comfort level of working in his stance. We talked to Greg (Thursday) and told him about our plans. He's up for the challenge. So when you're doing some of your drills, just get comfortable playing with that right-handed stance as opposed to that left and I think that's something he'll immediately be able to work on. Just get comfortable with that muscle memory, and I think that's something with his athleticism, we feel confident he'll be able to make that transition."
Head coach Sean McVay’s staff wanted to turn Robinson into exactly the veteran swing tackle I had envisioned in Mike Remmers as a possible addition five months ago. Up until the point where the big man got on the plane to Detroit, he was preparing mentally and physically all offseason to become a versatile tackle who could play both sides of the line.
Can Detroit finish the job?
One of the interesting comments on how this could be a career changing move for Robinson came from former lineman Geoff Schwartz. Sure, the young guy struggled in Los Angeles but there are a lot of possible reasons including scheme or personality fit with the particular coaches. Another culprit could be the same thing holding Joe Dahl back: coming from a system in college that did not really teach the necessary range of techniques. Poor technique in pass protection is a knock that has followed Robinson for his entire career.
Guess who else came out of college with question marks on pass protection? Whatever the issues were with Taylor Decker, the Lions got it all worked out:
"As a linemen you have to be consistent," Decker said. "I think that's the name of the game as being a linemen. So, just staying square in pass protection, and keeping proper footwork, don't get overextended and things like that. There's so many little subtleties that I know coach (Ron) Prince will coach me up on, and I think he's going to make me a much, much better player."
I have made the argument in the past that seeing how Lions coaches were able to teach a number of young players to fix particular technique issues inspires confidence that they can do the same again. Ron Prince has done great work with Taylor Decker and Joe Dahl on technical stuff, so there is good reason to believe he can do a solid job with Greg Robinson. This is a good match of phenomenal athletic talent, modest acquisition price, and Detroit coaching capabilities.
What was that second thing from Holley’s book?
Before the start of the Spygate season, a major acquisition for the Patriots was wide receiver Randy Moss at the cost of a relatively cheap fourth-round draft pick. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels drove out to pick up his new deep threat from the airport because Belichick wanted the young coordinator to feel out how strong Moss’ competitive fires were. Before McDaniels could even get into the subject, a phone call interrupted the drive. Holley writes in chapter 5:
Instead his cell phone rang, and a player from another team was on the line. Moss explained that he had just arrived in Boston and was a Patriot and the player told him that New England was on their 2007 schedule.
“Dawg,” Moss said in his thick West Virginia accent, “we could play y’all in a parking lot and we’d still tear y’all’s hearts out.”
McDaniels kept his eyes locked on the road, but it was difficult for him to contain his excitement. Moss had just answered several of his questions with that exchange. Now he didn’t need to ask how much fire he had or what his mentality was as he prepared for the season.
If anybody at the organization wondered whether Randy Moss was hyped and motivated to work hard and dominate, they had their answer. That’s the last piece of the puzzle when it comes to Greg Robinson and the Detroit Lions. He’s got the talent to be great. The Lions have the staff to make it happen. Is Greg Robinson hyped and motivated to reach his potential?
Based on what Kyle Meinke of mlive.com reported, I think we got our answer:
Greg Robinson was so eager to begin his fresh start, he flew overnight to make Detroit's final practice before break https://t.co/SwzFzuSF5I pic.twitter.com/92v9DqQBPX— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) June 15, 2017
Dawg, go tear some hearts out at left tackle. We’re all rooting for you.