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The Conversation: Future NFL Special Teams Coach Brad Robbins Taking Notes From Memorable Punting Debut

P Brad Robbins punts the ball during the Bengals-Browns Week 1 game of the 2023 season on Sunday, September 10, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio.
P Brad Robbins punts the ball during the Bengals-Browns Week 1 game of the 2023 season on Sunday, September 10, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio.

The subject of senior writer Geoff Hobson's weekly conversations with Bengals personalities is rookie punter Brad Robbins off his memorable 10-punt debut last Sunday in the Cleveland rain. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, and plenty to teach a guy who has designs on becoming an NFL special teams coach after his playing days.

According to Elias, Robbins became the first punter in 20 years to have 10 punts in his debut on an intriguing day his brother watched from the box of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. He looks to put the next foot forward in this Sunday's Paycor Stadium opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the Ravens. We caught him at the card table before Monday's team meeting.

BR: You can just play this one without me. Put my cards on the bottom.

GH: I don't want to break up the game.

BR: No, we're good. No, we're good.

GH: You can tell he's a rookie. Five years from now he'll tell me to take a flying leap. Kind of a welcome to the league, huh? Not only wet and rainy, but seven punts on the first seven series?

BR: I'm always thankful for times like that. As a specialist, nothing's ever going to be perfect unless you hit the ball 60 yards out of bounds every single time. It's never going to be perfect, but to get the opportunity and get that many reps in the game, you just have to look at it as a positive.

GH: It looked like you got warmed up as the game went. Is that how it felt?

BR: Probably a little more comfortable. I've played in a lot of big games and I'm pretty old (24) for a rookie. I felt good as the game went on, felt more comfortable, felt like I was getting into a rhythm a little bit more. The more reps you get week by week, it's just going to get better and better.

GH: You're probably one of the few guys that has played in a bunch of rain during six years at Michigan.

BR: I've played in a handful of rain games. Especially being in the Big 10. You got snow, rain, wind, all that kind of stuff. I think the last one was three years ago. It was different, though. It wasn't like pouring rain. But it was kind of spitting down the whole time. So if the ball's wet, you don't know it. The first couple of punts the ball wasn't wet. As the game went on, the ball got a little bit slicker. It was a little tricky, but definitely thankful for the opportunity.

GH: We saw Joseph Ossai douse long snapper Cal Adomitis with a water bottle once while he was snapping on the sidelines during a practice. I guess special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons does that to you, too.

BR: Once or twice a week.

GH: Did he do it last week? Throws it on you and the ball.

BR: Yeah. And then when that bottle is empty he goes and grabs another one.

GH: What has Darrin told you after Sunday?

BR: There's a decent amount of good and a decent amount of bad. You just keep showing up, right? It's impossible to lose if you keep showing up and keep performing and putting your best foot forward. It's either you win or you learn, right? Being able to learn a whole lot from a lot of different reps and just progress on to the next game and push forward.

GH: Did you ever have a 10-punt game?

BR: Not that I remember. My freshman year at Michigan I averaged seven and a half a game. Which is a lot. I'm sure there was maybe one in there.

GH: Did you get tired?

BR: No, no, I felt pretty good the whole game. I didn't feel fatigued. I didn't feel tired much. Just more locked in than anything.

GH: Like you said, you've played a lot of ball. What was your first NFL game like?

BR: It was more cool than anything.

GH: What was cool about it?

BR: So it's different now because I was on the same team for six years in college. Their returner was DPJ (Donovan Peoples-Jones) was one of the guys I played with at Michigan, so that was kind of cool to see. I guess I just kind of took it all in during pregame and seeing all these guys I kind of grew up watching. It's like 'It's pretty sweet. I belong here. I'm in the same realm.'

GH: Anybody in particular?

BR: I mean a dude like Myles Garrett fist bumps me after the game. It's like looking up to a giant human being. 'Hey, good game, man.' That's pretty cool.

GH: Did you see Donovan after the game?

BR: Yeah, I didn't talk to him much. Kind of just my mentality after a loss. I'm not there to really stick around and get really friendly with anybody. But I'll congratulate the other specialists on their team win and just kind of shoot out of there. But I talked to Donovan pregame. We didn't get too much into conversation.

GH: Did he say he'd take one back on you?

BR: No, he didn't say any of that. But Darrin was giving us a little bit of crap for going to Michigan and saying, 'Hey, do you guys have a secret handshake or what's going on here?'

GH: If you had any butterflies, that probably helped.

BR: I was more nervous I think week one in preseason and having that be like, 'All right, time's come. We've got to perform-type deal.' To me this just felt like another game. Just have to keep moving forward.

GH: What do you take away from it for next week?

BR: This league is all about consistency and reliability. And that's really the best ability as a specialist is being reliable. Just being able to kind of flush the bad ones I had during the game and move forward with the good ones I had. I thought I had a couple of decent positive punts for stretches. Ten punts I think we allowed 15 return yards, whether it be fair catches or just maybe a bad punt. That's a huge positive we can take away. We didn't allow too many return yards.

GH: I know you talked after the game that you pulled one punting from the Cleveland 38 and it went in the end zone. But on the next one you got a big one out of the end zone. A 54-yarder.

BR: I believe that's when the score was close (3-0). I thought that was maybe a chance to capitalize for us. Definitely needed one there. Felt pretty good to get that one off.

GH: What is Darrin's message?

BR: Kind of reiterating there's a positive side to everything. And just carry that positive with you. To allow that many return yards in a game is a good positive to take away and just kind of understanding moving forward the ability to be consistent and be reliable, especially in my position. We have the ability if our team is struggling maybe on offense, we can be the spark as a unit. We have the chance to flip the field, we have the chance to score points. So the ability to kind of spark our team. Hey, we're going to put you guys in good situations. It's important.

GH: It's a young group. Your personal protector Jordan Battle was also making a rookie debut …

BR: He did a really good job.

GH: And the gunners made their debuts, too. (Tycen Anderson and Andrei Iosivas.)

BR: Those guys definitely know what they're doing. Dre is out there. He got a few gunner reps in preseason, but I think the more reps he's going to get is going to keep him confident.

GH: Think about that. Two gunners, the protector, and the punter all in debuts.

BR: Rookies up the middle and Cal has one year under his belt. We kind of understand that. Teams will come after you with different stuff.

GH: Did the Browns try any of that?

BR: There were a couple of (exotic)rushes. We had a lot of variety with that many punts in the game. Definitely saw a lot. Growing up quick, which is good, and understanding it's bigger than just punting the football. Understanding certain schemes. Who their blocked guys are, what we need to do to capitalize on any given situation. Everyone plays a role. We're a little young but I think that gives us an edge and a chip on our shoulder. Like I said, the more reps we get and the further down the line we get, the more positive it will be. The first punt wasn't bad. A couple of the spirals, one out of the back of the end zone. I thought the holding was good.

GH: I forgot about that. Two good holds in the rain. You're known for your hands. You were a big baseball player in high school, right?

BR: For sure, good hands. Middle infield. I pitched. Played outfield.

GH: How long did you play baseball?

BR: Eight to 18.

GH: Did you get scouted?

BR: When I committed to Nevada originally out of high school, I was going to play both. But I turned to football my junior, senior years in high school. I would have liked to have played both.

GH: Any secret to holding in the rain?

BR: I think it's more just trusting the battery than anything.

It's just as important as Cal being on the same page with me. A guy has to deliver laces and a perfect strike also in the rain, right? It's trusting that. If he misses, I just make it right, and if I miss, Evan (McPherson) makes it right.

GH: You've told me coaching is in your future. Special teams?

BR: Maybe. Depends how I'm feeling and depends on the sport, too. Baseball would be fun. Obviously, you need a lot of connections in that world. Baseball would be fun. Football would be fun. Really anything to help impact people.

GH: In the pros?

BR: Yeah, maybe college, but I feel like professional would be fun.

GH: Why?

BR: I kind of want to avoid college. I would much rather work either with my own future kids or stay in the pros. I just feel like the whole NIL landscape, as of right now, is kind of weird. I could see myself being an NFL special teams coach.

GH: Obviously, Darrin is the most tenured teams coach in the league and one of the best. What do you think of him as a coach?

BR: He's one of my favorite coaches I've ever had and I've only known him for a few months. His attention to detail is pretty unmatched.

Expectations are through the roof and he always pushes you to be your best. And it's a good working relationship. I also think we have a good relationship outside of football, too, which is positive. Able to talk, joke around, and have a conversation outside of that. When we step on the field, the switch is flipped as far as getting the job done, getting the work in.

GH: Do you find yourself taking notes from him?

BR: Definitely. There's a lot to learn and the rule changes from college to the NFL, just the adjustment of learning that kind of stuff is pretty good.

GH: His attention to detail can be exhausting as well as necessary.

BR: You compartmentalize that stuff. If there's anyone who can handle that, I feel like we have the right group as far as specialists go.

Darrin is a detailed guy and he expects the best out of you at all times. But at the same time, I feel like there's a mutual understanding. You're trying to do your best at all points. You're not intentionally messing up.

GH: What was his main message after Cleveland?

BR: Just relying on the repetitions that I've done over and over and over again. You don't need to change, you don't need to be different.

and just building on the positive. We put in a lot of work behind the scenes. Not a whole lot of people see it. Being able to rely on that.

GH: Your dad Eric grew up a Bengals fan in Westerville, just outside of Columbus, where you did. He had to be thrilled to see you play Sunday.

BR: My dad's kind of like Darrin. He'll call me after the game and want to do analysis of the game. I'm like, Dad, I'm just calling you to talk. We didn't talk a whole lot (Sunday) night. They had some stuff going on afterward, but I'm sure if I called him right now after I got off the phone with you, we'd be breaking down the game, too. They went to the game. My brother Eric is a director of sales at Pilot and works under (Browns owner) Jimmy Haslam. They were up in a box.

GH: He may have had the best day of all. He got to see you punt a lot and his boss's team won. Who was he rooting for?

BR: I think he was rooting for me. But if you're rooting for the punter to out there, it's probably not a good thing for the team.

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