Updated: 10-24-12, 6:40 a.m.
When Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton made his NFL debut in 2001, Bengals rookie center Trevor Robinson was all of 11 years old. Half the age he was Sunday night when he got his professional baptism by fireplug in front of millions of his closest friends on NBC.
"That's why you do this," Robinson said before Tuesday's practice. "If you don't love that … ."
Robinson's own debut came the week before against Cleveland for a series, but this one came off the bench in an emergency with Jeff Faine down by a hamstring injury that forced Robinson into the entire second half against one of the NFL's most estimable nose tackles and confusing schemes.
"Overall as a body of work it's what you would expect," said Robinson, who handles himself on and off the field like a 12-year veteran. "There were a couple of plays I felt like a rookie, looked like a rookie. But there were more plays that were OK."
But he knows it has to be better than OK. Welcome to the NFL. Robinson made what offensive line coach Paul Alexander called "two critical mistakes" out of his 26 snaps, a ratio that can't happen. And head coach Marvin Lewis talked about how well Robinson played, except for when the team really needed him on a second-and-seven play. It turned out to be Cincinnati's last possession and Hampton got by Robinson to blow up the play in the backfield.
"The big-league curveball looks a little different in the batter's box," Alexander said. "But certainly he showed he can physically hold up."
Actually, it's been a remarkable rise. A few days before his 22nd birthday on May 16, the undrafted Notre Dame guard signed with the Bengals and at the rookie minicamp was moved to center. All he did was get better, made the club, and the Bengals now think they may have a solid and versatile interior player of the future.
"He's got the brains, he's very smart and he's a good leader," Alexander said when it comes to making the calls. "Very decisive."
The 6-1, 335-ish pound Hampton is known as a strong two-gapper at the point, but the 300-pound Robinson disputes the notion that he threw him around. He points to more technique than strength.
"I'm strong enough," Robinson said. "Something I learned was taking the technique from practice to the game. The technique issues are something I can't have, especially against a guy like that who knows how to play the position."
On the second snap of the half, Robinson was called for a hold that wiped out a five-yard run. On the second-to-last play of the game, Hampton got him again.
"I got over-extended and that's what a good D-lineman is going to do," he said. "He's going to feel you going too far and he's going to swing back the other way. He's not a guy I'll be able to beat if I use poor technique."
Robinson is in good hands with Faine and Kyle Cook, the injured Bengals starting center that, as fate would have it, spent his first game on the sidelines Sunday night after his ankle surgery.
"That was a big help because he was with me during the first half and I watch every play like I'm in there," Robinson said. "The coaches did a good job preparing us for the looks we were going to see. There wasn't any time I got up there and I wasn't able to ID what was going on."
There isn't much Alexander is happy with off the Pittsburgh game, but he's pleased at the protection offered inside. With Robinson landing between second-year left guard Clint Boling and rookie right guard Kevin Zeitler in their seventh game at those spots, the Bengals allowed no sacks.
"When you play Pittsburgh the big thing you worry about is the rushers running free," Alexander said. "We didn't have that with those three young guys in there."
Robinson found himself in the same boat with a bunch of other guys on his young offense Sunday night. Not only was he working next to the 23-year-old Boling and 22-year-old Zeitler, but wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Ryan Whalen, both 23, made their first catches of the season. Throw in 21-year-old tight end Orson Charles and his nine snaps and it was more than Robinson getting his first taste of the Steelers.
"As a young player, the thing I have to do is learn from my mistakes and not make the same one," Robinson said.
PRO BOWL VOTE: Fan voting for the 2013 Pro Bowl started Tuesday online and on web-enabled mobile phones by going to NFL.com/probowl.
Balloting ends Dec. 17 after the Jets play Tennessee on Monday night. The teams are announced at 7 p.m. Dec. 26 on NFL Network's "Total Access," and the game is set for Sunday, Jan. 27 on NBC at 7:00 p.m. from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The teams come from consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group's vote counts one-third toward determining the 43-man rosters. Players and coaches will cast their votes Dec. 20-21. Last year the Bengals had four players in Hawaii: wide receiver A.J. Green, tight end Jermaine Gresham, quarterback Andy Dalton, and defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
JONES HOPEFUL: Brandon Tate was the announced starting receiver opposite Green on Sunday night, but Marvin Jones knew he was going to get the bulk of the snaps. Until he suffered what appeared to be an MCL sprain on the team's first kick return and he never made it to the first snap.
Jones was up and around Tuesday on a crutch and knee brace after head coach Marvin Lewis said he has a chance to play against Denver on Nov. 4.
"It's kind of funny because I did this my freshman year at Cal with the other knee and it was the bye week, too," Jones said. "And I was fine. I'll be OK."
Jones said he went inside to block his man and "it got cluttered and someone pushed their blocker into my (side of the) knee. It could have been worse. I thought it was. I knew it was going to be a big game with some big plays. Everything happens for a reason. I'm not mad. I'm just taking the necessary steps to get back out there."
Jones was sidelined for Tuesday's practice and even though players head into the bye week after Wednesday's practice for four days off, he'll have to rehab. Running back Brian Leonard (rib) was on the rehab field and the thinking is he's got a good shot at playing Nov. 4.