Vikings' Robison embracing changing role, taking Hunter under his wing
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Brian Robison watched Chad Greenway retire in the offseason and Adrian Peterson leave to sign with the New Orleans Saints.
Those two longtime Minnesota Vikings stars were really the only contemporaries for the defensive end drafted in the fourth round in 2007.
There was a time that Robison was a featured part of the Vikings defense, a standout not on the Hall of Fame track like Peterson or in the running for Pro Bowls like Greenway, but nonetheless a valued member of a team that consistently entered the season with high expectations.
As younger and more potent pass rushers have been added to the defensive line over the past few years, Robison's playing time has been reduced. But his impact remains significant.
With Danielle Hunter coming on strong as he enters his third season, it has become more apparent than ever that Robison's time with the Vikings in nearing its end.
And while that reality can be difficult to handle, coach Mike Zimmer raved about a recent gesture by Robison in the team meeting room acknowledging the situation and making it clear that there would be no ill feelings or bitterness, only support and teamwork as the Vikings prepare to try to rebound from a disappointing 2016.
"Probably as good as I have been around," Zimmer said when asked about how Robison is handling a changing role. "He said he would do anything he could to help this football team. I think he understands that Danielle is a very talented guy. . . . He did things the correct way, like a true professional."
Hunter was just 20 years old when he was drafted by the Vikings in the third round in 2015. A physically imposing, but technically raw, player needed guidance both on and off the field. And rather than view Hunter as the player who could eventually take his job, Robison took the youngster under his wing to help him find his way.
"To have a guy like that, that looks up to you and has told me many times that he really wants to emulate some of the stuff that I do, it means a lot," Robison said.
Robison reworked his contract this offseason, taking a pay cut but getting one more season of security that will keep him under contract through 2018.
"I have spent my whole career here, and I definitely want to end my career here, and so it was important for me to get that second year," Robison said. "I think it is a rare opportunity that you see a player be loyal to an organization and vice-versa, the organization be loyal to a player. Nothing is guaranteed in this league, but at the end of the day, I got the second year and hopefully that gives me options to be able to finish out my career here in Minnesota."
In some ways, Hunter's emergence may help to extend Robison's career. Getting fewer snaps every game can help conserve Robison's legs and help him be more effective in the smaller percentage of plays he receives. Last year, as Hunter blossomed with 12 sacks, Robison still managed 7, his highest total since 2013.
"He means a lot to this team, man," nose tackle Linval Joseph said. "One, he's a great guy. He's a great leader, man. He just wants to win. He makes a lot of sacrifices and he does a lot of things for this team, just to win that ring. That's what we all want: a ring."