Robinson willing to do whatever it takes

Michael Robinson still hopes to play QB in the NFL, but that doesn't mean he won't do whatever it takes to play at the next level.

Updated: April 7, 2006, 1:53 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

One of these days, if Michael Robinson sits in front of the television long enough and takes copious notes on any of the seemingly endless run of no-limit Texas hold'em shows that proliferate on the schedule just about any evening of any week, the Penn State quarterback is finally going to figure out whether three of a kind tops a full house or whether a straight trumps a flush.

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And then, well, look out, world. Especially if the other guys sitting around the green-felted table happen to all be NFL scouts.

Because at that point, Robinson will really be prepared to let the chips fall where they may.

"The problem right now," explained Robinson, sighing, "is that everyone else is playing poker, except me. I mean, I'm a spades man, OK? The whole poker thing, I don't get it. But when the game is spades … I don't care who my partner is, just deal the cards and I'm going to take us to a win. It's just my competitive nature. And trust me, I'm competitive in everything I do. You name it, and I'm playing it to win, no matter the game. That's one of the best qualities I have."

It's a quality, Robinson lamented, that he isn't certain league personnel directors and scouts have identified yet in him. But since he isn't apt to lure many talent evaluators into a game of spades -- heck, even the most grizzled bird dogs around the NFL have gotten caught up in the exploding poker craze, Robinson has determined -- teams are just going to have to take his word for it.

Or, maybe, go back and take another look at the videotape evidence from his Nittany Lions career.

What they'll see well-documented on the celluloid, Robinson promised, is a guy who would do anything ("And I mean anything at all," he insisted) to help his team win.

That's an important assertion and here's why: Because the do-it-all Robinson, who performed just about every task that Joe Paterno and the coaching staff asked of him during five years at Penn State, is perceived by some NFL personnel officials as a guy insistent on doing just one thing -- playing quarterback -- at the next level. And that simply isn't true, emphasized Robinson, one of several quarterbacks in this year's draft who likely will have to switch positions, at least initially, to be regarded as a viable NFL prospect.

"I'm a football player, plain and simple, and isn't that what they're looking for? I don't know where this whole idea came up that I have to play quarterback. I've never told that to scouts. Never said it once. My whole thing is, draft me as a football player, a guy who has made plays in big games, and been a winner."
Michael Robinson, former Penn State QB

Truth be told, Robinson is probably built (6-foot-1 3/8, 227 pounds) more like a wide receiver or tailback, the positions many teams have projected for him, than he is a quarterback. Although his 40-yard times have largely been in the mid-4.5s, Robinson is a smooth and effortless athlete, with nice elusiveness and some explosiveness and long speed. What all of that translates into for NFL scouts remains to be seen.

In the new-age parlance of the college recruiting game, players such as Robinson, it seems, show up on campus with the "ATH" notation next to their names. It is shorthand for athlete and longhand for a player whose best position is wherever the team needs him to line up. In the NFL, where change is always difficult and the culture of specialization basically demands that every prospect be pigeonholed into some well-defined subset, the approach isn't quite so progressive.

Rather than embrace prospects like Robinson -- or other versatile quarterbacks such as Reggie McNeal (Texas A&M), D.J. Shockley (Georgia), Brad Smith (Missouri), Kent Smith (Central Michigan) and Marcus Vick (Virginia Tech) -- the NFL tends to view them through a prism held at arm's length. If they just move a bit closer, Robinson said, they might be surprised by what they discover.

Which might be that the hybrid designation, which has become so popular for edge defenders, might also apply to some players on the offensive side of the ball as well.

Certainly the performances of former college quarterbacks who have succeeded at other positions in recent NFL seasons, such as standout wide receivers Antwaan Randle El and Drew Bennett, should have precipitated some deviance from the stodgy mind-set of the past.

Then again, it takes a player willing to change positions to help change people's minds, right?

And rumors to the contrary, Robinson is prepared to become a chameleon if it helps him in the draft, and gets him into an NFL training camp with a legitimate opportunity to earn a roster spot.

"I'm a football player, plain and simple, and isn't that what they're looking for?" Robinson said. "I don't know where this whole idea came up that I have to play quarterback. I've never told that to scouts. Never said it once. My whole thing is, draft me as a football player, a guy who has made plays in big games, and been a winner. And if somewhere along the line, you find out I can play quarterback, that's good. And if I can't, well, you've still got yourself a player who is going to find a way to get on the field and help you."

Early in his college career, it was Robinson who kept finding ways to help Penn State, where the coaches weren't quite sure what to make of him, either. In fact, entering his senior season, Robinson had started more combined games at positions other than quarterback, five each at wide receiver and tailback, than the six starts he had logged as a signal caller. Finally, in 2005, Robinson, a team captain and a player who had already earned a degree in December 2004 and had enrolled in graduate school, started every contest at quarterback.

Robinson completed 162 of 311 passes for 2,350 yards, with 17 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. He also ran for 806 yards and 11 touchdowns. And in a season of resurgence for both himself and a once-proud Penn State program, he broke quarterback Kerry Collins' school record for single-season total yards.

For his career, Robinson totaled 5,371 yards, and scored touchdowns as a rusher, passer and receiver. But just as was the case in high school, it took Joe Paterno a while to warm up to him as a full-time quarterback.

"The crazy thing is," Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said, "everyone was asking before the start of the season, 'Can this guy really play quarterback?' Then he went out and played quarterback at a very high level, and it still didn't stop the questions, did it? Makes you wonder what he's got to do."

What the articulate Robinson acknowledged he must do is whatever scouts ask him to do. At the combine, in the Senior Bowl practices and during his pro day audition, Robinson worked in drills at wide receiver and running back. He threw the ball, ran with it and caught it. And for being such a whirling dervish, the scouts have pegged him as a probable middle-round selection.

One longtime scout from an AFC franchise tabbed Robinson as "a project, maybe a little bit of a gamble, but a project worth taking. There's some edge to him."

Michael Robinson
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesMichael Robinson led Penn State to an 11-1 record last season.
What might provide Robinson some advantage over many of the other college quarterbacks in the 2006 draft pool who will be asked to change positions is that he already has lined up and been productive in other spots. His résumé includes 319 carries and 43 catches, and while Robinson is still fairly unpolished as a wide receiver or tailback, even his modest experience at those positions might flatten the learning curve a bit in training camp.

His hope is that if he can contribute at another position and continue to get practice snaps at quarterback, maybe even operating the scout team, he might be able to move to quarterback in two or three years. In that acknowledgement, though, Robinson sees a twist.

"You know what the irony really is?" Robinson said. "The only position at which I was ever coached was quarterback. I never went to a wide receivers meeting. I never ran routes at practice or was coached up in terms of technique. None of that. I mean, when I was playing wide receiver, Joe [Paterno] would say, like, 'OK, line up out there, run this route, and we'll get you the ball.' But playing receiver probably made me a better quarterback, actually, by the time I got to play there. Even now, I think every quarterback ought to have to run some routes in practice, because it gives you a much better perspective. I'd highly recommend it. I just wouldn't recommend having to wait so long to play [quarterback], that's all."

The wait before he lines up behind the center again, Robinson conceded, could be a long one.

He views himself and others such as McNeal or the wondrously talented Vince Young of Texas, despite the athletic derring-do of quarterbacks such as Michael Vick of Atlanta, as ahead of their time. In 20 years or so, he suggested, the game will have evolved to the point that quarterbacks who can run will be regarded as typical, and not curiosities.

That said, Robinson is prepared to roll with the here and now, whatever his first NFL experience brings.

Asked how he might look back on a career in which he lasted 10 seasons, won a Super Bowl or two, made it to the Pro Bowl, earned a living that enabled him to have no financial concerns after retirement, but also included never having taken a single snap from center, Robinson laughed.

"That would be fine," Robinson said. "Like I said, I'm a football player. And if all those things came true, it will have meant I was a pretty good football player, huh? The way I look at it, I'm ready for whatever they throw at me. Just like in spades, I'll play the hand that's dealt me, and turn it into a winner."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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