Asked recently to summarize the Minnesota Vikings season, defensive end Brian Robison offered a simple analogy.
"I guess you could say a roller coaster that stayed close to the ground most of the time, a kiddy coaster," Robison said.
Robison was describing Minnesota's 3-13 season, but the comparison can also apply to his first season as a starter. Only instead of staying close to the ground, Robison's season had its full complement of highs and lows.
The 6-foot-3, 259-pound Robison started strong before being slowed in the middle of the season as teams adjusted to Robison playing on the opposite side of All-Pro end Jared Allen. Robison ended on a high note, setting career highs across the board with 54 tackles, eight sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
As players packed up after the season, Robison talked about how he's even more motivated going into the offseason.
"If anything I think it makes me a little more hungry," Robison said. "Coming into the first year starting and doing the things I did, I want to be a better player now. It was a learning process this year. During the middle of the season I hit a little bit of a wall and towards the end I broke through that wall and finished strong.
"So, it's just a matter of getting in the weight room this offseason, doing some cardio stuff, you know, doing what I've always done and just trying to become a more explosive, stronger athlete."
After Ray Edwards left for the Atlanta Falcons in free agency last offseason, Robison was promoted to the starting lineup after being a situation pass rusher for his first four NFL seasons. A fourth-round draft choice by the Vikings in 2007, Robison had started seven of his 63 career games entering the 2011 season.
Robison worked in the offseason to prepare for the rigors of regular defensive snaps and it paid off early. He had 4.5 sacks in the first five games. Offenses started to account for Robison in their blocking schemes and he had just one sack the next seven games.
"I think the first four games I was like, 'This is kind of easy,'" Robison said. "Then I think we hit a stretch starting with Chicago the first time down there, started getting a lot of chips and things like that. I got to see a little bit of what Jared gets to go through."
Robison finished with a flurry though, notching 2.5 sacks in the final four games and had two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in that time.
Minnesota has tried to find a complementary pass rusher opposite of Allen, since acquiring him in 2008. Edwards often flashed the potential, but was inconsistent, topping out with 8.5 sacks in 2009. Edwards chased the bigger payday with the Falcons after an eight-sack season in 2010.
Robison's eight sacks and strong finish in his first season as a starter gives Minnesota the hope it finally has consistent, bookend pass rushers in Allen and Robison.
"The development of Brian Robison, a guy who we had a lot of high hopes for in the starting lineup, playing as well as he did with the number of snaps that he got, that was really encouraging," coach Leslie Frazier said.
Robison wasn't sure when he would get his chance to start. Edwards was selected in the fourth round the year before Robison and became the full-time starter in Robison's rookie season. Stuck behind Allen and Edwards, Robison waited for his opportunities.
"It took four years to get here," Robison said. "So, anytime you're a competitive athlete you want to be on the field as much as possible. That was part of being a professional was just doing what my role was on the team and just buying my time and luckily it worked out for me."
Now with his starting spot no longer in doubt, Robison is hoping to get in line for a different kind of roller coaster next season, one that has more highs for the Vikings.
"I'm going to have to go to Valley Fair and see which one of the roller coasters is best," Robison joked. "Hopefully next year we can definitely come into the year and start the season like we did in the three first halves of those first three games. Put those halves together and accumulate them for a season."