MOSCOW, Idaho – At 240 pounds, Tre’Shawn Robinson is hands down the heftiest linebacker in Idaho’s playing rotation.
That’s not the only distinction he holds among the brethren at his position.
Robinson is also the only mainstay at linebacker who doesn’t crack the 6-foot mark.
Asked to contrast the well-built 5-foot-11 junior to 6-2 JoJo Dickson – the player Robinson is replacing at starting middle linebacker – Vandals coach Robb Akey chose to simply describe Robinson as “more compact.”
“He plays with better pad level because the good Lord gave it to him,” Akey said.
Robinson doesn’t have the prototypical size – at least not the height – that scouts target in a linebacker. But since carving out playing time as freshman in 2008, he’s become known among coaches and teammates more for his explosiveness and strength than anything else.
The Upland, Calif., product has started before in spot duty, and now the Vandals (4-3, 1-1 WAC) will bank on him and Spokane native Paul Senescall to fill in for Dickson, a three-year starter and co-defensive captain who was lost for the season last week with a broken leg and dislocated ankle.
“He’s the kind of guy that I think is irreplaceable in terms of his playmaking ability and his intangibles,” tight end Daniel Hardy said of Dickson. “The good thing about that is we have guys like Tre’Shawn and Paul who have been in the system. And I think they are going to be ready to show their stuff.”
Robinson’s emergence as a true freshman was a source of optimism for the Vandals during their two-win 2008 season. But he was derailed that first year by a major knee injury five games into the season.
After recovering much quicker than expected, Robinson returned in 2009 with the same aggression that he had shown before.
“He’s got great explosion,” Akey said. “I’m expecting (to see) a guy that’s got game experience, that has the physical capabilities. Just make sure he’s paying attention to the mental capabilities of being right where he belongs at all points in time.”
Robinson doesn’t have Dickson’s coverage skills or 23 games of starting experience. Yet Akey and Hardy both insist that Robinson, alongside Dickson, is perhaps the strongest player pound-for-pound on the Idaho roster.
That’s a claim fellow linebacker Robert Siavii won’t dispute.
“He’s just a powerful dude,” Siavii said. “If he meets you in a hole, expect not to break his tackle because he will wrap you up and take you down.”
Sure tackling will be a key for the Idaho defense on Saturday night when the Vandals play at Hawaii. The Warriors, on a five-game winning streak and in first place in the WAC, have the No. 1 passing offense in the nation and a 230-pound running back, Alex Green, who rumbled for 172 yards last week in a rout of Utah State.
The Vandals have yet to see such a high-powered offense, and they’ll face UH (6-2, 4-0) having lost two senior starters on defense in two weeks – Dickson and cornerback Isaac Butts, who was dismissed from the team.
But in both the secondary and linebacker corps, UI has improved its depth and skill level from last year. The extra bodies are coming in handy now.
“I felt like going into the season that we were pretty fortunate that we had more depth than we’ve had at linebacker,” Akey said.