By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Be like Rube: A week before the draft in April, I visited with defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin during the Browns’ first minicamp and questioned him intently about his future.
At the time, there was speculation – mostly generated by me – that Rubin might be trade bait because of 1. The fact he was drafted in 2008, three regimes before the present one, 2. A bloated salary cap figure of $7.575 million, the result of a $26 million contract extension awarded by former GM Tom Heckert in 2011, and 3. New CEO Joe Banner’s reputation in Philadelphia of discarding players whose salary exceeded their value.
I asked Rubin what kind of vibe he was receiving from the new coaches.
“They want me to be here,” he said. “They want me to be a leader, to still hustle, run to the ball. Be me. Try to show the guys on the field how hard I work. That’s all I can do.”
What does “be me” mean for Rubin?
Quiet, soft-spoken, unassuming and introverted, Rubin just might be the most respected – if not the most awed – player in the Browns’ locker room.
Cornerback Joe Haden: “I love Rubin, man. He’s a big dude that just gets his job done. There’s nothing extra. He’s just a really good teammate. He just comes in every day, works hard.”
Defensive end Billy Winn: “From the first day I walked in here to this point now, he has shown so many different examples of leadership, whether it’s leading by example or meeting with you one on one, or just knowing what he’s supposed to do in meetings.”
Linebacker Paul Kruger: “He’s a workhorse. One of those guys that doesn’t know any other way to do it. He works his tail off. He’s talented. That’s why he is the type of player he is.”
Linebacker Craig Robertson: “We actually work out in the same place in Dallas (in the offseason). So seeing the work he puts in outside of here, I have a way better appreciation of him.”
A big guy that can run: When defensive coordinator Ray Horton was introduced in January, he talked about wanting “big guys that can run and little guys that can hit.” At 6-2 and about 320 pounds – down 10 from a year ago – Rubin personifies Horton’s mantra.
Haden: “I know Ray loves him because he just does exactly what he needs -- big guy, plugs up holes, runs to the ball every play. If you look at Rube at practice, you just see him run on every single play. He’s not just working his technique and then the ball’s thrown. You won’t see a play where you don’t see him burst for like 10 yards.
“We see it in the DB room. I say, ‘Look at Rube,’ and you see him running all across the screen. And it’s not something he looks for people to say about him. It’s just what he does every practice.”
Kruger: “For as big as he is and how he moves, he’s one of those special guys.”
Winn: “He’s flying around like he’s 280 pounds.”
Coach Rob Chudzinski: “Rubin’s got an unbelievable motor and work ethic.”
Horton: “If you watch the tape (of the Detroit preseason game), he dominated in the game.”
From humble beginnings: I was invited by then-GM Phil Savage to sit in on one of the team’s pre-draft meetings in 2008. That was the year the Browns were without their top three draft picks because of trades.
In the meeting, Savage moderated a discussion among scouts and coaches on candidates for the team’s first draft pick, which was in the fourth round. Almost every person who spoke, including coach Romeo Crennel, heralded Rubin, who was an unknown nose tackle from Iowa State. Savage had a gut feeling about Nevada-Las Vegas linebacker Beau Bell and prevailed on draft day. Rubin lasted until the sixth round, and Savage scooped him up there.
I’m pretty confident in saying that except for Joe Thomas, who was taken third overall in 2007 and is on a clear path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the selection of Rubin was Savage’s greatest pick. Rubin has steadily gotten better under Crennel, Eric Mangini and coordinator Rob Ryan, Pat Shurmur and Dick Jauron, and now Chudzinski and Horton.
A pure, stay-at-home, two-gap nose tackle at Iowa State, Rubin has developed into a disruptive pass rusher and relentless ball chaser. Horton stationed him at left end in his 3-4 attack scheme. Horton took note quickly of the esteem Rubin warrants in the locker room.
Horton: “Rubin is going to become a valuable player. He’s becoming a leader. He is one of those guys that is coming out of his shell. He is a quiet man, but he’s starting to come out because he knows he’s a good player. He knows his teammates trust him so he is starting to talk more. At first, I didn’t know he could talk.”
Haden: “If you go talk to him, he’ll definitely talk to you. But he’s not gonna walk over to you and start a conversation.
“Not much style to Rube. Not at all. Big Phil (Taylor) is always messing with Rube, saying ‘We gotta get Rube some swag.’ Rube is like, ‘I can’t. This is the way I play.’”
I’ve considered Rubin one of the most underrated players in the NFL for about three years now. I asked him what can he do in Horton’s aggressive defense to stand out and receive national acclaim.
“Be myself. Make plays, hustle after the ball, and everything will take care of itself,” he said.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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