TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Few opponents or situations can rattle Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson. The star junior has faced enough elite pass rushers and played in enough big games to be prepared when the next one arrives.
Now 37 games into his career, he has seen it all. He held Ohio State’s Joey Bosa without a sack as a freshman. He stopped Ole Miss’ Marquis Haynes in 2014. Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett didn’t have a sack against Alabama two weeks ago.
Traveling to LSU brings a different challenge for the Monroe native. He faced it once before, during Alabama’s 20-13 overtime win in 2014 in Tiger Stadium.
“I remember going there my freshman year and just warming up,” Alabama left guard Ross Pierschbacher said. “I was backup left tackle, warming up behind him. The fans were kind of digging into him a little bit. I think he takes this game pretty personal, so I think he’ll be on this week.”
Even then, Robinson was a known quantity. He was a five-star tackle who left his home state to play at Alabama. He was pegged as a first-round draft pick and a NFL franchise left tackle at the same time he became Alabama’s starter at the position.
Those are the expectations he has always faced.
“When you’re going to talk about a guy as a top-10 draft pick or a first-round tackle and the best tackle in the league, their standards should be different,” said Cole Cubelic, an SEC Network analyst and former Auburn offensive lineman. “I shouldn’t have to hold him to the same standard as when I’m looking at one of Tennessee’s tackles or one of Georgia’s tackles.”
Robinson has been as scrutinized as any player, and he’s not always as dominant as some would hope. He played through several injuries during 2015 that limited his effectiveness. He has had slips this year: Robinson was flagged for a false start on third down against Tennessee; he gave up a sack to defensive end Derek Barnett on the next play.
Cubelic said Robinson’s freshman year remains his best, though he has been playing better of late.
“When he plays with leverage and he runs his feet, he can be dominant,” Cubelic said.
His teammates see a powerful player who is a key leader. Pierschbacher was in the same recruiting class as Robinson, but Robinson enrolled early. When Pierschbacher arrived in the summer and started preseason camp, Robinson already had established himself as the left tackle.
Pierschbacher competed with him for the left tackle job briefly before the 2014 season. Since then, Robinson has spent practice competing with Alabama’s defensive linemen.
“He’s a very big guy, so he’s hard to get around and hard to move,” defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “I’d say that’s one of his best attributes.”
Robinson hasn’t spoken to reporters this season after he was arrested May 17 in Monroe. Robinson was arrested for possessing a stolen firearm and marijuana. Alabama defensive back Laurence “Hootie” Jones, also a Monroe native, was arrested with Robinson and charged with possession of marijuana.
Charges for both were dropped in June when the district attorney declined to prosecute. The situation didn’t die there, though: Alabama coach Nick Saban drew criticism for his handling of the situation at Southeastern Conference media days in July. Saban and the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum engaged in an off-air shouting match about the arrests and Saban’s response to them.
Saban said discipline was handled internally. Neither Robinson nor Jones missed any games. Instead, Robinson was named one of Alabama’s offensive players of the week by the coaching staff for his performance in the season opener against Southern California. He has earned that award four times this season.
“What’s most impressive with him, similar to (former Ole Miss standout Laremy) Tunsil, is his body balance,” Cubelic said. “To be able to be 6-4, 6-5 and be 300 pounds and control your body the way he does, he has a really long wingspan. To be able to control his body the way he does, it’s really impressive.”
Those are the same characteristics that set Robinson apart as a recruit and as a star freshman. He also plays with a mean streak and physicality that coaches prize. Robinson can maul defenders and push them back to the second level when he latches on.
He also has shown the kind of work ethic that NFL teams seek. Alabama listed him at 327 pounds last season, but he entered this year at 310. That has helped prepare him for facing Barnett, Garrett and LSU standout Arden Key in consecutive games.
Saban said he likes what he has seen from Robinson. He’s hoping his left tackle delivers again against LSU.
“He’s done a good job, and (they were) certainly challenging,” Saban said of Barnett and Garrett. “So he’s going to be challenged in this game. ... Arden Key is a really, really good player, really good pass rusher. They’re very athletic up front. Very athletic at linebacker. ...
"This will be another test for him, but I think he’s done fairly well against some pretty good players so far this year.”