Versatile Robinson settling into ISU's new spread offense

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Alexander Robinson's college career has been a testament to adaptability.

The Iowa State running back is playing under his third offensive coordinator in less than three seasons with the arrival of Tom Herman on Paul Rhoads' new coaching staff. But despite never really feeling settled earlier in his college career, Robinson appears to be better suited for Herman's new no-huddle spread offensive attack than any of his previous offenses.

"I'm definitely excited about this," Robinson said. "We're going to spread the ball around. It gives us a chance to get outside and everybody is a threat on every play. It highlights everyone in the offense."

The spread offense might be a great equalizer for the Cyclones, who have struggled matching up with some of the more talented teams in the Big 12 in recent seasons. ISU has lost 21 of its last 24 conference games and has finished in the North Division cellar or tied for last place during each of the past three seasons.

But Herman's spread attack, keyed by quarterback Austen Arnaud, could give ISU a chance to at least make things interesting offensively.

One of the biggest reasons for that optimism is the production of the 5-foot-10, 184-pound Robinson, who rushed for a team-leading 703 yards last season. He also added 17 receptions, including seven catches in his final two games.

That strong showing, along with his quick assimilation into Herman's new offense this spring, has the new coaching staff buzzing about what Robinson can do.

"A-Rob has been a shining light," Rhoads said. "He's intelligent, he's quick, and he's strong."

Herman's offense at Rice was one of the most innovative in the nation last season. The Owls ranked in the top 10 in passing, total yards and scoring.

Robinson's early production in Herman's offense has the new coordinator excited about using him in a variety of roles as a rusher and a receiver. He even got some snaps in the spring game lining up as a quarterback in a "Wildcat" formation.

"After being around here for a very short time, he might be my favorite player," Herman said. "And the reason why is the number of different things he does for us. He's just a very versatile, productive player."

After averaging 97.8 rushing yards in the final four games in 2007, Robinson was expected to blossom into a dominant running back last season. He led the team in rushing, but felt he could have accomplished more after an early slump stunted his confidence.

"I still feel like I've got to prove something," Robinson said. "Last season, I didn't live up to the potential I showed during my redshirt freshman year. That was a bitter disappointment for me how it ended. I feel like I need to improve."

Robinson finished the spring locked in a tight battle for playing time that also includes bruising redshirt freshman Jeremiah Schwartz and heralded University of Florida transfer Bo Williams. All showed flashes in Herman's offense during the spring.

Schwartz is the biggest of the group at 5-11 and 238 pounds, a player who can barrel over defenders as well as race past them. Williams was a highly touted recruit for the Gators who has yet to take a snap in college.

Their usage, however, will not be dictated by game situations, Rhoads said.

"All three are in the mix and will be used," Rhoads said. "They do have varying styles but not to where they are situational guys. If somebody is not fresh, we would run each one of them out there depending on their time to play. The possibilities are going to be endless for us."

The Cyclones had a strong tradition of a tough, physical running game during Rhoads' previous tenure at ISU as an assistant under Dan McCarney. ISU had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of those seasons, including NCAA rushing leader Troy Davis, who led the nation in rushing in 1995 and 1996 and became the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in two different seasons.

Times have changed and those big rushing numbers seem about as dated as the Bob Dole presidential buttons that were in vogue at the time. But Rhoads still believes that ISU's rushing attack will have a prominent role in Herman's offense.

"I would argue that the running attack that will be produced in Tom's style of offense will be higher than it was at Rice," Rhoads said. "And Alexander Robinson will be a huge part of that."

The Cyclones enter the season as the likely preseason pick for the North Division cellar after losing 10 consecutive conference games. Their 17-game road losing streak is the longest in the nation.

But the excitement that Rhoads and Herman have helped pump into the program has Robinson excited about the Cyclones surprising some naysayers this season.

"We've dealt with a lot of adversity throughout our careers here. And the one thing we've learned is to keep working and moving ahead," Robinson said. "With the new coaches, you've got to give a positive attitude every day and keep getting better. And that's what we've tried to accomplish this spring."