In order to lead, a player must sometimes follow.
Brian Robison's willingness to do the latter helped him become an even better leader.
The veteran was selected by teammates as one of four season-long Vikings captains, joining draft classmate Adrian Peterson, defensive linemate Everson Griffen and locker-room neighbor Chad Greenway.
Peterson, Griffen and Greenway are in their second year as season-long captains, which were implemented by Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer before his second season with the club.
Zimmer started his wave of changes with Xs and Os in 2014 when he was hired for his first head coaching position after 14 years of success in the NFL as a defensive coordinator and six as an assistant. Robison didn't bronc or buck the new notions even though he had already played 110 games.
Instead, he listened to coaches and learned new techniques to help make the Vikings defense more successful.
In 2015, he was willing to slide inside from his defensive end position to defensive tackle so that the Vikings can deploy several skilled pass rushers at once or bluff pressure to confuse quarterbacks. Griffen, who became a starter in 2014, said Robison's professionalism has helped him accept an expanded role as well.
"He does his job, he does it well and is another role model to me," Griffen said. "He's a great player, a great man and is like a brother to me. I love him."
Defensive line coach Andre Patterson said Robison has embraced his evolving role and "executed what our defense needs to happen for us to be successful" with a "whatever it takes" mentality.
"That's real unique for him to be able to execute all of those assignments from all of those different positions, and you've got to be intelligent to be able to handle that," Patterson said.
Robison has delivered momentum-swinging plays at key moments from multiple spots this season. He opened his 10th in the pros with a pass breakup and tackle for loss on consecutive plays at Tennessee.
Momentum in the dramatic first regular-season game at U.S. Bank Stadium swung to the Vikings for good when he forced one of a career-high three fumbles by Aaron Rodgers during a pivotal sack of the Packers quarterback in Week 2. Robison also had an assist in stopping James Starks on a fourth-and-2 in the third quarter.
Last week, Robison was part of a "sackstravaganza" when the Vikings sacked Cam Newton eight times. Robison's takedown of the reigning NFL MVP gave him 50.5 sacks for his career, but he and other Vikings players celebrated the team success against the defending NFC Champions.
Robison said Patterson has been a "huge influence" on the defensive line.
"He brought in a different methodology than we had all learned in the past. I think it's helped us all, not only as individuals, but as a unit," Robison said. "The thing about him is he wants every one of us to be technicians, and that's what we work at every day. Every day is about technique.
"It's not always about going out there, running around and making plays. It's about doing your technique right," Robison said. "Sometimes it might be sacrificing yourself, with your technique to do the right things in order for someone else to make plays, but sometimes it comes back on you, and he does a great job of making sure we understand that."
Zimmer said Robison's work — tinged with a blue collar under purple pads — goes well beyond game days and stat sheets.
"I think Brian's taken the role of trying to show guys how to be professionals," Zimmer said. "And also, when [I] came in here, he had to buy into a new coaching staff, new style of defense, new all that stuff. So I think it's good. It shows that guys can adapt to different things, and as long as you work hard and you do what you're supposed to, guys appreciate it."
Robison is an expressive — often humorous, sometimes feisty — communicator who knows it's important to validate verbiage. He takes advantage of brief breaks during practice to show tips to younger players. The instruction extended to walking back from the Minnesota State University, Mankato practice fields during several days at Vikings Training Camp.
"I take a lot of that responsibility, because at the end of the day, I'm here for one reason and one reason only, that's to hopefully bring a championship to the State of Minnesota," Robison said. "The only way you can do that is to help the younger guys, bring them along and make sure that everybody is on board with our defense."
Discussions might include recaps of how Robison is seeing a younger player position his hips or hands, then fine-tuning for the next rep.
"A lot of times they get out here and get so enamored with the plays and what they're doing with the plays, and staying on track and things like that, that they kind of forget other things."
Robison also is smart — and or humble— enough to seek help in his own game, based on what younger players are seeing him do.
"I think that's what's great about our group. We're all kind of perfectionists, even me. I'm a 10-year guy, but I'm going to Ev' and asking him certain things about his pass rush and what he does," Robison said. "Not everything is going to work for me. Some of the stuff that Sharrif [Floyd] is asking me, not everything I do is necessarily going to work for him, but there's always some bits and pieces you can take out of that and add to your game that's going to help you become more successful. That's what I love about our group is always trying to find a way to be better."
Zimmer has encouraged players to "find a way" to win games in the absence of Pro Bowl quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who suffered a dislocated knee at practice on Aug. 30.
It's not up to one person to do that; it's up to the team, from the most experienced in the locker room to rookies, but many believe that players like Robison can help the team build on its 11-5 mark from a year ago and defend its NFC North title when it's their time to shine.
"There's going to be times that the plays are going to come to you," said Robison, recalling last year's home opener against the Lions (he had six tackles, five solo, one for loss, a quarterback hit and two passes defended on the press box stat sheet).
"It wasn't that I did anything extraordinary or different," Robison said. "It was that the plays came to me, so it's the same thing. A lot of times, it's 10 guys doing their jobs right so one guy can make the play. You've just got to go out there every single down and do your technique and do what you're supposed to do within the scheme of the defense and just hope that the play comes to you."
Robison is counting on the other 10 to make his 10th successful for the team and Vikings fans as they open U.S. Bank Stadium together.
"I'm an emotional player, so I don't think it will be different than it has any other year. I think as you get higher in years, you understand the end is coming closer and closer. You never know when that time is going to be, but you go out there and play every game like it's going to be your last, and the same thing with practices.
"You've got to go out here with the mentality that you never know if it's going to be your last day," Robison said, "so you just go out there every single day, whether it's practice or a game, and give it your all and try to make the team better."