EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Rookie offensive lineman Greg Robinson has been very open about the difficulties of adjusting to the NFL.
The St. Louis Rams haven't made that adjustment any easier on him as they've tried to balance getting him plenty of work at his projected long-term spot (left tackle) and where they initially projected him for 2014 (left guard).
With one preseason game remaining and the start of the regular season coming next week, Robinson's status as the projected starter at left guard appears uncertain.
After starting the first two preseason games, one at each position, Robinson didn't start against Cleveland last week. He did play a team-high 58 snaps at left guard. Robinson said Tuesday he doesn't have a "steady position."
"They said I’ve been making too many mistakes and the real bullets are about to start flying," Robinson said. "What I think about that is it’s not how you start, it’s about how you finish. You never know what happens and when my opportunity presents itself I pray that I’m going to be ready."
Beyond prayer, it would probably benefit Robinson to get a chance to work more exclusively at one spot or the other, particularly at guard. But that has been a process made more complicated by various injuries to others on the offensive line.
Left tackle Jake Long is still working his way back from knee surgery and clearly has plenty of rust to knock off before the season starts. Rodger Saffold dealt with a stinger in his shoulder that kept him out for a spell. Those ailments have left Robinson working in a sort of de facto utility man role for most of camp.
According to Robinson, moving between the two positions is no longer a struggle in terms of understanding the offense so much as it is about fundamentals. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau points to hand usage, in particular, as the biggest change in technique, something he's seen before including with former Rams (then 49ers) lineman Harvey Dahl before he coached him in Atlanta.
"If you put a tackle in at guard, they learn to use their hands a lot better than when they play tackle," Boudreau said. "Tackle you can leave your hands down by your side for a while. Orlando (Pace) used to come out and never use his left hand until he had to. At guard, they’re on you right now, you better use your hands so in the long run it’s going to help him use his hands faster, a lot better and more efficient."
Beyond his hands and growing accustomed to the phone booth sized space that accompanies playing guard, Robinson has other areas he's working to adjust.
"It’s all about alignment and assignment, getting off on the snap count and taking proper steps so you really can’t miss a beat, no false steps," Robinson said. "Those guys are trying to prepare me for the up-tempo and just helping me understand it’s a little bit faster and I have to think faster and on my feet."
Earlier in camp, Boudreau related a story of Rams lineman Barrett Jones stopping Robinson and telling him that nothing comes easy in adjusting to the NFL. Jones essentially took a redshirt as a rookie while recovering from a foot injury and trying to catch up with all that goes into the NFL.
"He told Greg that last year was the worst year of his career," Boudreau said. "It’s new, you’re in the NFL, it’s a different speed, whole different deal. You’re coming in and you’re a freshman all over again so the one thing about him is day to day you see something a little bit better than the day before. That’s all I’m looking for right now. It’s baby steps."
Coach Jeff Fisher has downplayed Robinson's coming off the bench but for now Saffold is handling left guard duties with Davin Joseph on the right while Robinson works to catch up. Whether that will happen in time to reach opening day as the starter remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Robinson acknowledges that it would be beneficial to settle in at one spot but understands why he hasn't.
"It would be in my opinion but I’m just doing whatever the coaches ask of me because who says I’m going to just playing tackle?" Robinson said. "What if a guard goes down and I have to play guard and if a tackle goes down, I’d have to play tackle. So I’m just playing my role and just being there for the team."