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Preparing himself for even more
Asked once what his body felt like on Monday mornings during the season, Mack Strong did not hesitate before offering, “Broken glass.”
The quick response was not only funny, but understandable, because Strong’s primary duty during his 14-season career as a fullback with the Seahawks was lead blocking – for three 1,000-yard rushers (Chris Warren, Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander). Toward the end of his career, teammates began kidding Strong that was two inches shorter than when he arrived because of all the lead blocks he had thrown.
Michael Robinson, the Seahawks’ current Pro Bowl fullback, can relate, and even has his own oh-my-aching-body anecdote from his first full season as a lead-blocking fullback.
“Last year, I was tired,” Robinson said this week, as the players continue Phase 2 of their offseason program. “I would come in on Monday and be like, ‘I have no idea how I’m going to practice on Wednesday. I just don’t know how I’m going to get it done.’ ”
But get it done he did, helping Marshawn Lynch generate career-highs in rushing yards (1,204) and touchdowns (13) – and join him in the Pro Bowl. While Lynch was powering his way to becoming the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2005, Robinson helped pave the way by throwing his 6-foot-1, 223-pound body into a series of Pro Bowl middle linebackers – the 49ers’ Patrick Willis (twice), Ravens’ Ray Lewis, Redskins’ London Fletcher and Bears’ Brian Urlacher.
Before doing all this pushing, Robinson got a shove in the right direction from running back coach Sherman Smith.
“I told Mike-Rob, ‘As a blocker, either you’re going to be violent at the point of attack, or you’re going to get violated. Which one is it going to be?’ ” Smith said. “Mike-Rob responded to that. He said, ‘I’m going be violent, I’m going to be physical.’ ”
Robinson then backed those words with his actions.
“For Mike-Rob, he did the work that it took to prepare,” Smith said. “But for him, it was not just the physical work in (the weight room), but the mental work (on the practice field) where he just made that transition to just having that mindset of being more physical at the point of attack.
“That’s when his game really started to take off.”
And the Seahawks’ running game with it, as they averaged 134.9 rushing yards over the final nine games compared to 77.7 in the first seven games.
Robinson’s mindset this offseason has been to prepare himself so that he can pick up in 2012 where he left off in 2011. That started with hitting the weights earlier than usual, monitoring his caloric intake and also adding to and increasing his regiment of recovery techniques.
“I usually would take about a month off after the season, completely,” he said. “This year, I took two weeks off. I adjusted my diet a little bit to make sure I was getting the calories in me every day so I can prepare to do the workouts.
“Now I’m to the point where I’m doing two workouts a day. Already.”
That comes with the position, and being one of the smaller players in the league to play the position. In his matchups with Pro Bowl tacklers last season, Robinson gave up 17 pounds to Willis, 22 to Fletcher, 27 to Lewis and 35 to Urlacher. But Lynch had three of his six 100-yard rushing performances in those games, and in the Week 16 game against San Francisco he broke the 49ers’ 36-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher and also was the first to score a rushing TD against them last season.
“I always have to fill the weight on me, or it will go away (during the season),” said Robinson, who is up to 239 pounds. “That’s one of the things I really had to adjust to – lifting heavy, on a consistent basis.
“I’m stronger than I was at this time last year. Hopefully it will pay dividends for me in the fall.”
To truly appreciate where Robinson is, you have to remember where he came from. He was a quarterback at Penn State, and good enough to have been named Big Ten offensive player of the year as a senior. He was a situational halfback/fullback/kickoff returner and also special teams standout in four seasons in San Francisco after the 49ers selected him in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He led the 49ers with 27 coverage tackles in 2007 and was a Pro Bowl alternate as a special teams player in 2008.
Then, he signed with the Seahawks just before the start of the 2010 season. A few weeks later, Lynch arrived in an October trade with the Buffalo Bills. Last year, Tom Cable was hired as the assistant head coach/offensive line coach and installed his zone-blocking run scheme. Then, Robinson and Lynch both played in the Pro Bowl.
“Obviously, accomplishments feel good,” Robinson said. “But at the same time, the goal is to win a championship. That’s the goal every year. So whether we rush for 1,400, 1,500 yards, or whether we rush for 500 yards, the goal is still to win a championship.”
So no matter how much personal satisfaction Robinson might have derived from last season, “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to end.”
And that’s just another reason why Robinson has altered his approach to the start of this offseason.