With all due respect to future second-year superstars Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard, it may be defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson that winds up leaving the most indelible mark on the Alabama Crimson Tide football program. After all, even with the amount of talent that's littered throughout the offensive side of the ball, Bama is a defensive-based outfit -- as long as head coach Nick Saban is around.
But even if Robinson had gone to a school lauded for offense, like the University of Oregon, he would still be as impactful. Because he's that darn talented.
Former star lineman, and first-round pick (third overall), Marcell Dareus is the gold standard to which all interior linemen are measured against. His production was only superseded by his versatility, and his impact went beyond tangible numbers -- although his production was through the roof, as well.
In three seasons, receiving significant playing time in his final two, Dareus produced: 66 tackles, 10.5 sacks and one interception that went for a touchdown. At 6'3", 319 pounds, he could play the 0-, 3- and 5-techniques with ease. He had the ability to two-gap from the nose, one-gap penetrate and help seal the edge.
But at this point in their respective careers, Robinson is much further along.
The most impressive aspect of Robinson's game is his ability to get up-field penetration. At 6'4", 320 pounds, you wouldn't think that he would be much of a factor in the pass game. But it can be argued that it's the best attribute he has going, in a sea of positive characteristics.
As first glance, he looks like he should be always be on the nose, but his skill set is very reminiscent of New York Jets' star defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson.
Jets' head coach Rob Ryan employs a very similar approach to Saban. Both teams possess personnel for a 3-4-based defense, but operate equally well out of an even-front alignment. The key is having versatile down linemen like Wilkerson and Robinson.
Here is Wilkerson lined up at a 6-technique end. Now keep in mind that he's a 315-pound freak! But when you're insanely athletic as he is, playing on the edges is a rite of passage -- in a football sense, of course.
Here we see him positioned at more of a 3-technique; this may be his most natural position. Interior linemen aren't normally as athletic as tackles, but they don't have to be as they working in constricted quarters. Athletic monsters like a Wilkerson and Robinson are a handful for less-athletic, smaller interior linemen.
Wilkerson is lined up at nose tackle in this still. Having him two-gap from a 0-technique is a waste of his athleticism. But he's such a great player that he has had success when put in this position.
This goes for Robinson as well.
While Dareus had the benefit of being able to play alongside the insurmountable, 6"4" 350-pound Terrance Cody, Robinson may be the best run stuffer -- and pass-rusher -- on this current Bama squad.
Here is a great example of Robinson's off-the-snap quickness. Lined up at defensive tackle, in the Tide's even-front alignment, he shot the gap, nudged the guard aside and had the wherewithal to jump and deflect the pass.
Much like Wilkerson, his athleticism is too much to handle for most interior linemen in a one-on-one situation. Fortunately for interior lineman they have the benefit of having traffic to both sides of them. But as we can see with this sequence, quickness can erase double teams.
This above sequence is just not fair. Lined up at a 5-technique, in an odd-front alignment, Robinson unleashes a pass-rushing clinic: ideal pad level, superb leg drive and dynamic closing speed. He collapsed the pocket to the point that he made the guard look as if he originally lined up at fullback.
This kid's strength is unreal!
A lot of the larger players usually get served a bum rap of not having a motor that runs consistently. Coach Saban may have alluded to that in regard to Robinson.
"A'Shawn Robinson has a lot of ability," Saban said in a press conference after a spring practice (h/t to Tidenews.com). "But I think we need to get him in shape, and he's got to play with better focus and intensity down in and down out to be more consistent."
Let's be honest; Saban is a master of motivation. Putting out word through the media, about Robinson's practice habits, has to be a ploy to help him maximize his potential.
Because the eye in the sky doesn't lie...
This sequence sheds light on what will make Robinson a special player in the mold of a Wilkerson. Wilkerson is known for his relentless pursuit and non-stop motor. It's one thing to have a vast skill set, it's another to reach into the toolbox on a down-by-down basis.
Take the above sequence: Robinson originally "two-gapped" against the run, reset hit feet and continued his pursuit. Although that would be commonly referred to as a "coverage sack", if Robinson had shut down his pursuit, the QB may have eventually escaped out the back door.
There is very little concrete evidence, on film, to suggest Robinson is anything less than a monster. But if Saban can coerce him into practicing as he plays, it can only further strengthen his skill set.
Interior linemen that have the ability to affect the passing game will always receive top billing. But those that can get up field and still dominate in the run game are lauded as superstars.
Players like: J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan and Wilkerson are all linemen that possess scheme versatility, can rush the passer as well as dominate in the run game. Robinson laid the framework for one day having his name mentioned along with those aforementioned superstars with his performance last season.
His work in the Tide's run defense was every bit as impressive as his dominance in the pass game.
He gets off the snap with superb pad level. This needs to be harped on because a lot of taller players usually play from the waist up. His ability to bend at the waist will be attractive to scouts on the next level.
Although he is fooled into getting up field on the draw play, he had the wherewithal to sniff out the back and make the stop initially with one arm.
Robinson's 38-tackle, 5.5-sack performance -- as an 18-year-old freshman -- was just scratching the surface of what he'll ultimately be. His versatility, quickness and power will be tough for anyone to handle at the college level.
"Get'cha" popcorn ready; Robinson is going to put on an absolute show in the fall.
Murf Baldwin covers the Alabama Crimson Tide for Roll 'Bama Roll in addition to being a staff writer for The Falcoholic. He previously covered the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints for Bleacher Report. Are you not entertained? Follow Murf on Twitter.