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Brian Robinson, Phidarian Mathis bring another layer of toughness to Commanders roster

Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. (4) runs past Mercer defensive back Lance Wise (0) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Alabama running back Brian Robinson and defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis might not be as flashy of a selection as Jahan Dotson, but they are just as valuable. They just bring it in a different way.

After addressing their need for another receiver by taking Dotson with the No. 16 overall pick, The Washington Commanders double-dipped into the Alabama talent pool by taking Robinson and Mathis. While both only have one year as a starter under their belts, they do bring years of experience as rotational pieces for the Crimson Tide.

They have another thing in common as well: both bring a high level of physicality to their respective positions. The Commanders are hoping they'll inject some of that into their roster.

"I think we got tougher as a football team today," said general manager Martin Mayhew. "I think we got more physical. I think Phidarian makes us more physical playing defensively, playing against the run. I think obviously we got more physical running the ball as well, so those guys have a history of doing that, and we like that about them."

That is particularly true for Robinson, who joins the Commanders with his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame. He was second in the SEC last year with 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns on 271 carries.

Robinson, who did add 296 receiving yards to his resume in 2021, said he can be elusive when he needs to be, but he chooses to be more physical with this style. That works out, too, because that's exactly what he thinks the Commanders will ask of him.

"I really just see my role is just coming in and being a contributor to short yardage situations, or first and second down situations," Robinson told reporters after he was drafted. "Just where I can always be effective and get positive yards and just keep the chains moving."

When Robinson got going -- he was seventh in runs of at least 15 yards -- he was hard to stop, and that's something SEC defenders can attest to. He had the most broken tackles (79) in the conference. That's even more impressive considering it's the most by an Alabama player since 2014.

And with that physicality comes an ability to protect the football. He only had three fumbles in 545 career rushing attempts with Alabama.

"When you watch him in a style of running you always notice that the ball is high and tight, and he does a nice job with that," Ron Rivera said. "He's got long arms, so wrapping the ball also is an easier thing for him because of his size."

With Mathis, Rivera sees a player who is "more fully developed" against the run. He consistently improves as a tackler, and during his final season, he posted a career-high 53 tackles.

"You feel good about who he is, feel good about what his potential is and what he can do for us," Mayhew said. "In terms of playing snaps, being part of a group that's gonna get an opportunity to go out and play some football for us, so pretty excited about who he is."

Mathis was voted as a team captain by his teammates in 2021, and Rivera credits that to his physical style.

"I think not necessarily his voice, but just his presence," River said. "He's a big physical guy, like the style of play Martin talked about, how tough he is."

That physicality also translates to defending the pass as well. His 10 sacks since 2019, nine of which came in 2021, are tied for the second-most among SEC defensive tackles.

"I knew what time it was. I knew it was time for me to step up," Mathis said. "I finally had my chance to be a starter. I finally had my chance not to, you know, sit behind so many guys. There were so many guys that came through I had to sit behind, I had to wait my turn."

Mayhew said that the Commanders' scouts were "very convicted" about both Mathis and Robinson because of what they could bring. It's an emotion that Mayhew shared, and the team has been talking "for a long time" about how both players would fit on the team.

Both are expected to add an extra layer of toughness to both sides of the ball.

"It made a lot of sense to add those guys," Mayhew said.

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