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A'Shawn Robinson getting promising early reviews in OTAs

Despite all the film study, workouts, interviews and background checks that teams perform in the pre-draft process, there's still a small element of guesswork that goes into projecting how college players will fit in at the NFL level.

How will a primarily shotgun quarterback adapt to playing under center in the NFL? Can a cornerback, who primarily played zone coverage in college, stand across an NFL receiver and play man coverage at this level? How will a defensive lineman, who spent the majority of his time two-gaping and playing the run in college, pick up an attacking, penetration-based scheme in this league?

The Lions are determining the latter with second-round defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson, but already believe the transition will be an easy one for the 6-foot-4, 310-pounder.

Rushing the passer was not Robinson's priority in Alabama's scheme, and consequently he did not put up gaudy statistics as one of the anchors on Alabama's defensive line the last three seasons. In 2015, Robinson had 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

But the Lions believe he can be a factor in the middle of their defense as both a run stuffer and disruptor in the backfield.

"It's simple. Size, speed, aggressiveness, talent, strength, you name it, he's got it, explosiveness, so, you know, often times schemes are schemes," head coach Jim Caldwell said of Robinson after a recent open OTA practice.

"You see a lot of guys go from 3-4 to 4-3 or go from a read sort of a scheme to, you know, a disruptive, sort of get off-the-ball kind of scheme. If they have the athleticism to do so, you know, they fit right in.

"So he's rolling and he's in a real competitive group. A lot of good players on the interior with him there, so he's learning, but he's got the right attitude."

The defensive tackle group appears to be one of the deepest position groups on this team after the additions of Robinson via the draft and veteran Stefan Charles in free agency. They join starters Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker and key reserve Caraun Reid to make a formidable group five deep. That doesn't include last year's fourth-round pick, Gabe Wright, and veteran Khyri Thornton.

Robinson is getting first-team reps alongside Ngata in OTAs as Walker eases his way back from a broken leg and dislocated ankle. If not a starter in the fall, Robinson is expected at the very least to be a key contributor in the middle of the defense.

"He is a big, powerful man," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said of Robinson. "He's still learning our techniques because he played a completely different style of football at Alabama than we teach here, but he picks up things fast.

"He has the athletic ability to do it, he has the strength and size to do it. It will be nice once we get into pads and he's really taking on blocks, you know, full-on taking on blocks, learning how to do that stuff. Then we'll see how good he is, but I think right now the early reviews are good."

The Lions ranked 19th against the run (113.0) last season, but improved to eighth against the run (92.3) over the last eight games of the season when Ngata got over some nagging injuries. Robinson is expected to step in and be a factor against the run right away, but how quickly can he become an element of what the Lions are hoping is an even stronger pass rush in 2016?

"Athletically, strength-wise, he's all the things we thought and he can do what we're going to need him to do," Austin said. "It's just a matter of getting him repetitions at it."

Austin said that when he watched Robinson at Alabama he saw a player who was powerful and could move, bend and redirect. He called it a "no-brainer" that he could adapt and play in his scheme.

As for Robinson, he considers himself a pretty flexible player and already likes what he's being asked to do in Austin's scheme.

"I love it, honestly," Robinson said earlier this offseason. "I think it's a great defense for me to be in. To come from two-gapping and be able to attack – it's amazing.

"I know I'm changing my stance and just coming off the ball and explode on offensive linemen. It's cool."

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