BEREA — Ahtyba Rubin said his first name means “prince, warrior, king.”
“My mom gave it to me when I was coming out of the womb, so that’s my name and I’m proud of it,” the Browns nose tackle said Wednesday.
Rubin must mean “big man who hustles.”
Rubin isn’t a member of a dying breed, because the species never existed. He’s one of a kind: a sidelineto- sideline nose tackle.
In his first full year as a starter, Rubin has made tackles all over the field. He’s chased down receivers 25 yards past the line of scrimmage. He’s repeatedly moved down the line to crush the running back as he tries to cut back. He’s made more than a handful of stops on the sideline.
“He’s like an extra linebacker,” end Brian Schaefering said.
It must be remembered that Rubin’s 6-foot-2, 330 pounds and spends his Sundays getting double-teamed by guys just as massive. Cleveland center Alex Mack describes him as an “anvil.”
The anvil with a motor that never stops.
“Nobody in the league plays defensive tackle the way he does,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “This guy’s phenomenal. This guy gives more effort, he’s tough as (heck), you can’t run on him.”
Rubin said his name is pronounced Ah-tah-ba. His nickname
is Tuba. Rubin developed his nonstop, all-out style at Escambia High School in Pensacola, Fla.
“It’s just something in me, man,” he said. “Just really try to bust my butt to get to the ball. I guess it’s the will, the want to win, fight out there for your guys, your family is watching and you’ve got your name on your back.
“It’s just respect and a wantto- win type of thing for me to just hustle, and I’ve got a long way to go.”
Eric Mangini was already watching film of the game vs. the Jaguars on the flight home from Jacksonville on Sunday. While he tried to process another blown opportunity – and injured quarterback – he couldn’t help but notice Rubin’s effort. Mangini was so impressed, he brought it up Monday in his news conference.
“It’s just really satisfying to watch him,” he said.
Mangini said there wasn’t a specific play that showed the hustle.
“It was like play one, play two, play three, play four, play five,” he said. “He just keeps showing up. Those big guys usually don’t do that and when you see it, it charges you up.”
Rubin joins cornerback Joe Haden, safety T.J.Ward and linebacker Marcus Benard as reasons to be hopeful about the long-term prospects of the defense. Rubin’s in his third year after then-general manager Phil Savage plucked him out of Iowa Sate in the sixth round (No. 190) in 2008.
Then-coach Romeo Crennel didn’t play Rubin much as a rookie behind Pro Bowler Shaun Rogers. The playing time increased in 2009, but mostly after Rogers broke his leg. Rogers has been limited by injuries this year, and Rubin has become entrenched in the middle of the defense. Rogers plays mostly in passing situations or at end next to Rubin.
In the 15 games since Rubin’s taken over as the starter, the Browns have allowed just three rushers to reach 100 yards. They’ve given up a league-low three rushing touchdowns in 2010.
Rubin is tied for second on the team with linebacker Scott Fujita with 51 tackles — behind Ward’s 72 — a startling feat for a lineman. He has sacks of New England’s Tom Brady and Jacksonville’s David Garrard, and made a diving interception of Kansas City’s Matt Cassel.
“Those are great numbers for a nose guard in a 3-4. I’m proud of him,” Rogers said.
Rubin has always been stout against the run. His powerful, barrel-chested frame allows him to anchor himself and handle the double teams, and he’s quick enough to get penetration. He’s gotten better with his recognition of formations, which helps him get a jump on the blockers.
The biggest area of improvement is the pass rush. He didn’t have a sack in his first two seasons and just 2½ in two years at Iowa State following two years at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, one of which was spent as an offensive tackle. “We’ve worked with him on the slide protection,” said Rogers, who has 36½ sacks in his career. “He’s getting the slide and he’s using his hands and he’s making moves off defenders. The one thing Rub is the best at is his motor. I’ve never seen a big man like him run, run, run, run, run.
“It seems like he gobbles up centers and he’s active all over.” Rogers encouraged fans in a Tweet to vote for Rubin for the Pro Bowl. The NFL announced only the leading vote-getter at the position – Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata – but teammates and coaches think Rubin belongs.
“His real skill is his size and strength and ability to play well,” Mack said. “Running down the field and making those other plays makes him a more valuable player, but he’s just an all-around good player.” “If not this year, then most definitely he’ll be on the map for next year,” Rogers said. “You know how that kind of thing goes. You’ve got to build a reputation.”
Rubin isn’t obsessing over the possibility of going to the Pro Bowl. He’d love to make it, but is more concerned with picking up some wins, adding to his stat line and continuing the upward trend of his career.
“I know I got a long way to go, a lot of guys got a couple more sacks than me,” he said. “I’m just trying to pick up and get better every week.”
That attitude is one of the things Mangini appreciates. He’s been effusive in his praise of Rubin all season.
“He’s been really good,” Mangini said. “He made a ton of plays down the field last week and they’re just hustle plays.
“You love to see young guys who try to do the right thing, who play with great effort, who are growing. You can’t help but be excited about that.”
Rubin’s honored by the recognition, but feels some pressure.
“Just means I’ve got to keep on showing up every week and just not let them guys down, because it’s very important to me to make sure that they keep that confidence in me and I continue to perform,” he said.
Rubin had his toughest challenge two weeks ago against Jets center Nick Mangold and admitted losing some of the battles. He wants to play “24/7,” which would mean staying on the field for more passing situations.