RENTON, WA - Nearing the conclusion of his weekly Wednesday press conference, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll fielded a question that has quietly become a recurring subject over the past year.
"What does Alton Robinson have to do to get more snaps," the reporter asked.
After a brief pause digesting the question, Carroll smiled and responded, “He’s doing it, he looks really good. He’s had really good plays so far but we just need more. If anybody is clamoring for that, me too. He needs to be out there more."
Wednesday didn't mark the first time Carroll has publicly pined for Robinson, a second-year defensive end out of Syracuse, to receive more playing time. During the beginning of his rookie season one year ago, after inexplicably being a healthy scratch in Seattle's first two games despite a strong first training camp, Carroll stated the team was "confident he'll do a great job" helping replace an injured Bruce Irvin.
Sure enough, Robinson made his NFL debut later in the week and came through in the clutch during a 38-31 win over the Cowboys. As quarterback Dak Prescott tried to engineer a comeback in the closing moments, the then-rookie made a critical first down sack deep in Seahawks' territory, giving way to a game-ending interception by safety Ryan Neal three plays later.
Dressing in 14 games, Robinson struggled to carve out a consistent role on game day, but he made the most of his limited opportunities playing behind the likes of Benson Mayowa and eventually Carlos Dunlap. Though he only played 336 total snaps, or 29 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps, he finished a stellar season with 22 tackles, 4.0 sacks, and five tackles for loss. Per Pro Football Focus, he generated 18 pressures on 207 pass rush attempts for an 8.6 percent pressure rate.
Kick starting his second season on a high note, Robinson enjoyed an outstanding preseason for the Seahawks. Playing at least 30 defensive snaps in all three exhibition games last month, he produced eight pressures and a sack on 70 pass rush attempts. He also recorded four run stops, or plays PFF classifies as "failures" for the offense.
Carrying his momentum into the regular season, Robinson has been extremely efficient in Seattle's first two games against Indianapolis and Tennessee. In the opener, he recorded three quarterback pressures on just five pass rushing reps. Then last Sunday, he shot upfield past right tackle David Quessenberry and forced a critical fumble on a strip-sack against Ryan Tannehill. The loose ball was recovered by teammate Kerry Hyder and moments later, Chris Carson scored to extend the lead to nine points midway through the second quarter.
Through it all, Robinson has somehow continued to be on the short end of the stick when it comes to seeing the field. In the two games, he's played a grand total of 30 snaps, which equates to less than 20 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps.
Expanding on why Robinson hasn't had as much playing time as hoped, Carroll cited the Seahawks superb depth at defensive end as a primary culprit. The young defender currently is vying for snaps against Dunlap, Mayowa, Rasheem Green, and fellow second-year rusher Darrell Taylor, who has also been seeing action at strongside linebacker, in a crowded positional group that still hasn't had a pecking order truly established.
With that said, Carroll has certainly taken notice of Robinson, and how couldn't he? As would be observable for even the most casual football fan, he keeps making positive things happen every time he gets a shot to contribute for his team.
"We've got a big rotation, so it's going to take us a little while to get it all sorted out where we can maximize it," Carroll added. "But he's been really effective. He hasn't done anything other than that so far. He's just a pup and he's coming up, and we're really excited about what he's doing."
Set to face Kirk Cousins and the high-powered Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 3, Robinson has certainly earned himself more playing time by picking up where he left off as a rookie and continuing to make impactful plays in the first two games. The challenge for Carroll, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., and defensive line coach Clint Hurtt will be figuring out who will lose reps as a result.
Do they further trim back Dunlap's workload? Does Green mostly play base end and 3-tech defensive tackle? Will Taylor become a linebacker exclusively? All of those options need to be on the table for consideration.
Regardless of what they choose to do, unlike last year, the Seahawks can't afford to keep a high-effort, high-upside player like Robinson on the sidelines as much as they have been. Possessing speed off the edge and capable of winning with power at either end spot while being a reliable run defender, he's been far too disruptive since his arrival to hold him back any longer and more than deserves the opportunity to prove himself in a more prominent role starting this weekend.