The Detroit Lions had a number of rookies play significant roles last season, which should bode well for year two, when a player typically takes his biggest leap forward in development.
Defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson was among those youngsters making a vital contribution in Detroit a year ago. He became a starter alongside veteran Haloti Ngata the second half of the season. He led all defensive tackles with seven passes defended.
"A'Shawn is certainly one of those young guys that certainly has ability and really getting better and better as the season went on," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said at the recent league meetings. "He has just a great knack, I think, from a schematic standpoint of playing behind his pads and that just kept coming and kept getting better."
Typically, rookies will hit the proverbial "rookie wall" at some point later in the season. The NFL schedule is more demanding than players are used to in college. Rookies don't have the benefit of preparing for it with a true offseason before their rookie season in the NFL because of all the rigors and responsibilities placed on them in the pre-draft process.
For a rookie to get stronger and stronger as his first year plays out, to the point where he's playing his best football at the end of the season, is a good sign for the player he could become in year two.
But that's really nothing new for Robinson. He played in all 13 games (starting two) as a true freshman at Alabama, making 38 tackles, eight for loss, and leading the Tide with 5.5 sacks. That was a high starting point, and Robinson managed to continue to get better and better his subsequent two seasons in Tuscaloosa.
The Lions are certainly hoping history repeats itself for Robinson in the NFL.
"Kris (Kocurek) and Matt (Raich) do a great job with those guys and I think you're going to see (Robinson) continue to progress," Caldwell said.
"I mean he's really starting to come."