Bison fullback Robbins expected to be a versatile piece in team offense
FARGO—North Dakota State fullback Brock Robbins hasn't found the end zone during his Bison career, even though he was a touchdown-scoring machine when he played high school football for the Cavalier (N.D.) Tornadoes.
His college touchdown drought could end this fall, however, with the 6-foot-1, 248-pound junior expected to take on a more versatile role in the offense.
"We're moving Brock Robbins around," Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. "Brock's a great athlete that we have to find a way to get the football to."
While Robbins is listed as a fullback on the roster, he's also slated to play tight end. That role could having him lining up at the end of the line of scrimmage, being used as a motion tight end or also flexing him out as a receiver.
Robbins rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 41 touchdowns in his final high school season with Cavalier and was named 9-man senior athlete of the year. He finished his prep career with more than 4,000 rushing yards and 72 touchdowns.
Last season, Robbins caught four passes for 32 yards for his only career yards from scrimmage with the Bison.
"His background, being a true tailback from Cavalier and having 40-plus touchdowns, I think that's only an asset to him when we ask him to catch the ball in the flat or potentially being a ball carrier," said Bison tight ends/fullbacks coach Tyler Roehl. "He's got that background.
"Could he the carry the ball in a fourth-and-1 situation?"
Robbins welcomes the challenge of playing multiple positions in the Bison offense, but with that also come the added responsibility of learning how to excel in the different spots.
"It's really coming down to getting into the playbook," Robbins said after Friday's practice. "Credit to them for giving me chances and hopefully I can make the most of them. ... It's all about knowing what you're doing and being able to play fast so they can trust me to be in there and make the plays to turn the game."
Roehl said the Bison could use someone to fill the versatility the team lost with tight ends Jeff Illies and Connor Wentz completing their NDSU career last fall. Both were seniors a season ago. Illies was an effective pass catcher, while Wentz was a strong run blocker.
"They did so many different things for our offense," Roehl said. "We've got to find a guy with the ability to fill some of those roles."
Junior Ben Ellefson, from Hawley, Minn., and Nate Jenson are currently listed at 1-2 on the Bison depth chart at tight end. Robbins is the listed starter at fullback with junior Garrett Malstrom slated as the No. 2 fullback. The 6-foot, 251-pound Malstrom is a strong blocker and is more in the mold of a traditional fullback. Roehl added freshmen tight ends Noah Gindorff and Josh Babicz and junior tight end Matt Anderson could also be factors.
"It's going to be a race to maturity," Roehl said of the younger players in the position group. "There is a lot of competition in our group."
Robbins said he admired former Bison fullback Andrew Bonnet, who developed into a versatile offensive weapon by the end of his NDSU career.
"I definitely looked up to Andrew and even still just watching his film today," Robbins said. "I wanted to try to play like he did."
Bonnet, a senior on the 2015 team, was an athletic fullback/tight end combo who was known at times to try to hurdle defenders. That's one part of Bonnet's game Robbins will likely not emulate.
"Coach Roehl says no hurdling anymore," Robbins said with a laugh.