Michael Robinson’s conversion from college quarterback to NFL fullback

Michael Robinson’s conversion from college quarterback to NFL fullback began with one very impactful block. But he not only survived, he’s thriving as the only fullback on the Seahawks’ roster.

It was a collision that made quite an impact on Michael Robinson.

It was 2008, and the Seahawks’ new fullback – and only fullback after the release of Quinton Ganther this week – was playing for the San Francisco 49ers. Not to mention also making the almost-unheard-of transition from college quarterback to NFL lead blocker.

“The very first game I went in at fullback, we were playing Philadelphia in San Francisco,” Robinson said. “It was fourth-and-1, and I had to block Chris Goguen off the edge.”

That would be the same Chris Goguen who was then a 263-pound linebacker for the Eagles.

“He rung my bell,” the 223-pound Robinson said, now able to laugh about a play that quickly became a jagged-edge block for him. “It wasn’t quite a welcome-to-the-NFL experience, because that was my third year. But it was a welcome-to-being-a-fullback experience, definitely.”

Just how many snaps – and blocks – Robinson gets in Sunday’s game against the Rams in St. Louis remains to be seen. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ innovative use of two-tight end sets is becoming a trademark formation and in the past few games he also has been going with a lot of three-wide receiver packages. When the Seahawks go with either, the odd-man-out is the fullback.

But Robinson is contributing in so many other ways. Since being signed on Sept. 6, he has become a core special teams player – it was his block that sprung Leon Washington on the first of his two kickoff returns for touchdowns in last week’s thrilling upset of the San Diego Chargers.

He also leads the club with three coverage tackles and broke a 15-yard run on his only carry of the season.

“That’s what’s great about coach (Pete) Carroll and this coaching staff, they take what we do best and they try to use it,” Robinson said.

In only four weeks with the team, Robinson has become a security-blanket performer for several members of the coaching staff.

Asked how a former ball-in-his-hands player has been able to make the transition to blocker for – and seeker of – those with the ball in their hands, Bates allows himself the slightest of smiles before offering, “Being a quick study. You know, an ex-quarterback that picked up our offense extremely fast. He likes the game and he goes in there full speed ahead and he can run, he can block, he can catch. So we’re going to use his ability.”

What Robinson has been able to do is not as easy as it sounds. But then diversity has been the foundation of his game since Robinson began playing the game.

At Varina High School in Richmond, Va., he rushed for 3,046 yards on 371 carries (an 8.2-yard average) and 37 touchdowns, but also made 211 tackles and 18 interceptions as a safety. At Penn State, where he played quarterback, running back and wide receiver, he became the fifth player in school history to gain more than 5,000 yards in total offense and was the only QB to rush for more than 1,000 yards – a lot more (1,637, and 20 TDs). He was the Big Ten offensive player of the year as a senior.

Robinson didn’t make the switch to fullback until 2008, when Mike Martz was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator – and the ex-Rams’ coach has shown on more than one occasion, and with more than one player, that he’s not afraid to try anything.

“I’ve never been short on courage, even as a quarterback,” Robinson said. “So the real transition has been learning how to practice every day as a fullback. I can go in the games and play like I did in college, but in the league it’s a lot more physical at practice. It’s a constant, constant grind that just wears on you.

“So I had to work my way through that part of it. But I embraced it. I know I had to do some blocking, but at the same time I was fortunate enough to be with a coordinator like coach Martz who also utilized some of the things I can do mismatch-wise.”

Still, it’s not every ex-quarterback who can just step in and play fullback.

“It’s really tough,” Bates said of the transition Robinson is making look so matter-of-fact. “You look at Scott Frost (ex-Nebraska QB) and some other guys that have tried it, it’s tough. But Michael is a major special teams player. He just likes the game of football.

“And when guys have a passion, sometimes you can’t hold them back.”

That is the real secret to Robinson’s multifaceted game: The best thing he does is all the things he’s capable of doing.

“He’s an all-around football player,” Bates said. “I think we could play him at wide receiver and obviously we could play him at quarterback. We’re kind of flexible with that.”

The best part? Robinson wouldn’t give it a second thought before proving Bates right.