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Unsung Heroes of 2013: Greg Robinson

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No, not the defensive coordinator who shockingly nearly saved Mack Brown's job, the starting left tackle for the Auburn Tigers.

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Left tackle is one of the most overrated positions in football today, particularly at the collegiate level.

While a precision passing attack thrives with a dominant left tackle to protect the QB against premier edge-rushers without assistance, this simply doesn't come up as a major issue in the college game. For one, college offenses aren't as geared around progression-heavy, highly complex passing games. Many teams may only put their left tackle in a position where he must withstand an edge rusher on a five-step passing pattern a handful of times per game.

Second, there aren't as many great pass-rushers on the college schedule as there are in the NFL. Even in the SEC, it's possible to survive the conference slate without a future first-rounder at left tackle. It isn't like the NFL, where left tackles routinely face stretches in which they might draw Tamba Hali, DeMarcus Ware, and Aldon Smith in successive weeks.

Tactics have changed as well. Offenses are relying heavily on the quick passing game and read-option principles that often leave DE's unblocked or without sufficient time to work their way to the QB.

Texas had two of the best defensive ends in the nation this season in Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. The pair combined for 21 sacks on the year, but Texas finished 51st in the Defensive S&P+ rankings. Why? Because the Texas defensive backfield was really bad, that's why. Plus, Big 12 offenses are designed to survive against destructive defensive ends.

Defensive tactics are different as well. Michigan State brings some of the most feared pressure in all of college football, but the Spartans bring a great deal of it between the tackles with zone blitzes. Michigan discovered this year that featuring a future NFL player at left tackle doesn't necessarily mean that your QB won't be sacked into oblivion.

The Blind Side was a fascinating book and an enjoyable film, but the position has become overrated in discussing modern college football.

Now hold on to your butts, I'm going to say something that will come across as totally opposite....ready?

Auburn's left tackle Greg Robinson was underrated this season. He was left off the first- and second-team All-SEC coaches' teams and is now finally drawing NFL attention because he got pushed down against Tennessee and sort of flipped himself upright at 6'5, 320 pounds.

The real reason that Greg Robinson should be more highly heralded this season is because he is a focal point in the Auburn running game that ran over Alabama and Missouri en route to securing the SEC Title for the War Eagle.

(Incidentally, why doesn't Auburn just change the mascot to the War Eagle? Aren't there enough Tigers in the South? War Eagle is a far better mascot.)

Anyway, Auburn wasn't the first solid spread-option run game Alabama saw this season. Without utilizing Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M was unable to make a dent in the Tide defensive fronts; the Tide also shut out Dr. Bo and held Ole Miss to 1.8 yards per carry.

The trick with Alabama is its ability to physically manhandle teams at the line of scrimmage. If the Crimson Tide are unable to do so, they suddenly become imminently beatable. Alabama was unable to control the line of scrimmage in the 2013 Iron Bowl, and Greg Robinson was a big reason why.

Tre Mason frequently makes cuts in the Zone Read game around the consistently dominating blocks by Robinson. In this instance, Alabama is in a sort of Nickel Under front, with Adrian Hubbard lined up across from him as the Tide defensive end.

Robinson is looking to seal Hubbard to the outside, then clear room for Mason to cut upfield through the B-gap to Robinson's right by driving Hubbard backwards. However, he's so successful in driving Hubbard off the ball that Mason is able to go outside. Robinson even succeeds in throwing Hubbard backwards into the outside force player, Jarrick Williams, so that the outside path is remarkably clear for Mason.

Robinson also had a chance to show off his tremendous power against DT's on the Zone Read play, matched up here with Jeoffrey Pagan.

This is one of Auburn's endless varieties of Zone Read, in which a player motions across the formation during the snap. The goal is to threaten the perimeter with a sweeping player and get Alabama's extremely strong defensive backfield flowing the wrong direction. You'll notice this is successful, as Landon Collins over-pursues the sweep and is unable to change direction and make a tackle on Nick Marshall's dart up the middle.

The sweeping player hopefully elicits a DE or backer to fly upfield and render himself unable to make a play against either the RB or the QB on the actual Zone Read play. Marshall reads the DE and sees him fly upfield to handle the sweep, then his eyes find the replacement force player, Collins, flying to the sideline as well and cuts straight through the C-gap.

The C-gap has become enormous due to Greg Robinson driving Pagan four yards deep and another two yards or so inside. Alabama is famous for building pile-ups and walls in the trenches, but here Robinson completely caved in its interior while Malzahn's trickery and Marshall's speed and vision feasted on their other players.

Eventually Pagan left the game and Alabama inserted five-star freshman A'Shawn Robinson. Watch their battle on the edge, and you'll see Robinson similarly deposit him four yards off the line of scrimmage and help create a soft edge and poor pursuit against Marshall tearing around the corner.

The SEC title game was more of the same.

Early on, Missouri's athletic DE's were causing problems for the Zone Read when left unblocked and read or handled with pulling blockers:

So on subsequent drives, these players got the Greg Robinson treatment. First, with Robinson stepping back and then sealing the DE upfield:

Then, with the "midline" Zone Read option, in which the DT is left unblocked and read while Robinson pancakes the DE eight yards backwards. Watch the DE flail uselessly at Marshall while falling backwards:

The key to Missouri's success this season has been great DL play, which allows a solid defensive backfield to zone up opponents and make sustained drives difficult. As with Alabama's powerful DL, the athletic Missouri DEs were totally neutralized by Robinson's dominant run blocking. Unshielded by their DL, the Missouri defensive backfield was made to look far more ordinary.

If you want to attribute Auburn's rushing offense and SEC title to any particular player, it could go to Greg Robinson, who opened gaping holes for Marshall and Mason to explode through while steamrolling Alabama and Missouri's defenses. If you want to project how Florida State will handle this potent rushing attack, you should start by examining how they prevent the right side of their DL from being pancaked every other play.

Auburn's left tackle had a dominant and praise-worthy season, not for protecting his QB's blindside but for dominating the point of attack in the run game.

It seems that exceptionally strong, athletic, 6'5, 300+ pound athletes are multifaceted in how they can help a football team.