The late Bryan Robinson (98) was influential in a three-year run.
Bryan Robinson played on the Bengals defensive line for just three of his 14 NFL seasons a decade ago, but his professionalism is still felt in the room on a day the NFL reacted to his sudden death at age 41 during the weekend.
"He was one of the older guys that set the tone on how to carry yourself & be a pro," Jay Hayes texted Monday. "He helped make that D-Line room what it has turned into."
Under Hayes, the former Bengals defensive line coach now coaching the front in Tampa, it has turned into one of the top defensive lines in the game. Tackle Domata Peko, who broke into the Bengals defensive line in 2006 and is still with the club as the dean of the defense, has always counted Robinson as one of his mentors.
But when Robinson arrived as a free agent from Chicago in 2005, the Bengals were searching for an identity up front with the fourth pick in the draft in Justin Smith at right end and a high-end free agent in John Thornton at tackle. Not only that, in the third year of head coach Marvin Lewis' tenure, locker-room leaders were at a premium and Robinson became one right away.
Playing every spot on the four-man line in various situations, the man they called, "B-Rob," helped the Bengals win the 2005 AFC North title. When he left after the 2007 season, he went to the Super Bowl the next season with Arizona.
Thornton heard the news Monday from Hayes and was stunned to hear Robinson was gone at 41, wondering what could have happened to guy who kept himself in such good shape. The Chicago Tribune reported he died in a Milwaukee hotel room and while results of an autopsy and toxicology report are pending, the paper said police are treating it as a sudden death without trauma and no suspicious circumstances.
"He ended up being maybe a better player and better leader than anybody thought he would," Thornton said. "He didn't look like a nose guard, but he could play it. He was always in great shape He never missed a practice. When Bryan came here, everything about him was professional. If you were a rookie that didn't listen, he wouldn't talk to you. He was tough. In a room full of men, no one played around with him unless he was playing around."
After Robinson became one of the Bengals' more noticeable free-agent signings coming over from a Chicago team that had given him a big extension, he made nine starts at tackle in '05. Then he turned around the next season and started every game at left end. It was the drafting of Peko in '06 and the promotion of left end Robert Geathers to starter that led to Robinson's exit from the starting lineup in '07 at age 33.
Thornton, who along with Robinson was considered a locker room leader, said he learned as much from Robinson as he did from the veterans that he broke in with in Tennessee. He soaked up what he could from linemates like Robinson, Smith, and Sam Adams. He recalled that Robinson was in the salon business with his wife and always looking ahead to what he would do after football.
"You had Justin talking about the farm and Sam with all his businesses, and Bryan in business with his wife and the talk about business was almost as interesting as the football," Thornton said. "You knew you were among some serious guys when guys like Bryan, Justin, and Sam were up there in first class on a road trip reading the paper. I learned from them."
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