By Dave Campbell
AP Sports Writer
MANKATO, -- Brian Robison is no longer a part-timer -- or a plaintiff.
He's a starting defensive end for the Minnesota Vikings after four years as a backup and an offseason dominated by the NFL lockout.
Robison is also a former shot put and discus star who once had Olympic aspirations. For now, he'll settle for using his speed to rush the passer and prove he's strong enough to stop the run.
"I know that's been questioned a lot over the last four years, but I'm confident in my abilities," said Robison, who's 6-foot-3 and about 260 pounds, on the smaller side for NFL defensive ends. "After this year hopefully they'll look at me as a run stopper as well as a pass rusher."
Ray Edwards left as a free agent to sign with Atlanta, elevating Robison to his new role. He signed a three-year contract right before the lockout, with $6.5 million guaranteed and playing-time and sack bonuses that could push the value much higher. Robison has only 13½ sacks in his career, but he has made his presence felt at times when he's been able to line up, let loose and chase that opposing quarterback.
"It's something that I always wanted, the opportunity. I don't think I ever doubted that it would happen, but I just decided to bide my time," Robison said. "Just keep your mouth shut and work hard and good things come to you."
Jared Allen is the returning starter on the other side, an accomplished former All-Pro who has the most sacks of any player in the league since 2004. He'd be a natural to watch and learn from, but their different sizes, wingspans and rushing styles limit the amount of emulation. Robison said he sees his game as more like that of Dwight Freeney, the Indianapolis star with a similar stature.
Allen's best advice to Robison? Simply to be himself, not someone else.
"He said, 'These are the moves that you have. This is what you've got. You don't need to do what I have, because we're two totally different people,'" Robison said.
They share, though, a love for long hair, as Robison's horse-tail-like locks flowing from the back of his helmet will remind anyone watching No. 96 run around the field during practice. Allen used to have a mullet but brought his neck line up when he got married last year.
Robison has been growing his hair out for two years.
"When my curls come back, you guys will see," Allen said. "He's killing me on the length right now, but I'm a trend setter. He's just following."
If Robison follows Allen's sack totals, too, the Vikings will be happy.
"I think it's definitely a thing he doesn't let go of," said defensive tackle Kevin Williams.
Four years in the system helps ease the transition. It's not all that much of a transition at all, given how frequently the Vikings rotate their defensive linemen in and out during games. He'll just be in a more important role and find himself the subject of a little more attention -- from fans and opponents.
"With Brian, we don't expect a drop down," Allen said. "He knows our philosophy that if you step up you're expected to play at a high level. The challenge for him is learning the scenarios of playing every down. You're not coming in on third down knowing it's a pass. He's got tremendous talent. Brian has tremendous ability. He has all the pieces to the puzzle. Now he just has to put them together consistently."
When he wasn't working out this spring and summer, around all the weightlifting, running and mixed martial arts training in his hometown of Houston, Robison turned his focus toward the business side of his occupation. As one of the 10 players listed on the antitrust lawsuit filed against the league in response to the impasse over a new collective bargaining agreement, Robison was immersed in the issues between owners and players as talks went on to eventually settle the lockout.
"Anytime you can learn little details about your job other than what you're doing out here on the field, obviously it helps you in life after football," Robison said. "So it was a great thing for me to learn."
He's not ready for life after football yet. He's a starter now, with a potentially promising future ahead of him.
"It's up to the coaches ultimately whether they think I deserve that or not, so I'm just going to put it on the tape," he said.