However unlikely it seemed just weeks ago, it appears certain now - James Robinson, an undrafted rookie tailback out of Illinois State -, will be the Jaguars’ starting tailback for their week one matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, and the team - including offensive coordinator Jay Gruden -, is excited.
After the Jaguars waived Leonard Fournette, the question of who the team would turn to became paramount, but Robinson has been impressing coaches ever since he stepped foot on the gridiron at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Field in Jacksonville.
Now many have heard of him, he was an FCS player; not many people have heard from him either, and perhaps, that’s exactly what he wants. Described as a no-nonsense player by Gruden, Robinson does his job, and isn’t loud about it. Perhaps, he doesn’t have to be.
“You all probably won’t honestly hear much from him,” starting quarterback Gardner Minshew II told the media today. “He’s kind of a quiet guy, but man, he’s a great guy. He’s coming in [and] he’s gained all the respect of all the older guys because he came him, knew his stuff, took the responsibility that he had and proved that he’s deserved it.”
Robinson has had to prove himself at all levels. While he was a standout in high school at Illinois, Robinson didn’t earn many offers, opting to go to Illinois State potentially with a standing offer from Iowa at the time, it appears to have worked out.
During his college career, the rookie running back rushed for 4,444 yards and 44 touchdowns, while contributing with 5,218 yards all-purpose, and 46 total touchdowns in his career. An electric career, showcasing that only an opportunity was needed for him to succeed, and the Jaguars appear to be the next team ready and willing to give it to him.
“We keep giving him more and I think everybody on the team is very excited for him and the opportunity he has.”
This year’s Jaguars offense is new. It wasn’t built around players such as Fournette, nor was it built around Robinson nor tailbacks Devine Ozigbo and Chris Thompson, but the concepts involved do favor some players more than others. Robinson, however, appears to be the player Gruden appears to favor his “no-nonsense” running back.
“I try to get under his skin a little bit,” Gruden told reporters this morning. “I ask him if he’s nervous every day. He’s a very poised individual, no nonsense. He’s ready to go. We’ll see when Sunday hits, the first time we give him the ball, the first time there’s a third-and-1 or we have to get a yard. We’ll see how he does, but we have every indication that we’ve seen in training camp that he can handle it.”
Even though the team hasn’t had an opportunity to see its players play many live repetitions during training camp, due to preseason being canceled, Gruden is confident in Robinson, lauding his toughness, strength, vision and explosiveness in and out of holes, the total package it would appear. There are also things the team hadn’t seen from him previously, that perhaps surprised the Jaguars’ first-year coach.
“My biggest surprise with him is his ability to catch the ball and block. He’s a great blocker; he has great hands,” Gruden said. “He’s picked up everything extremely well. [Running Backs Coach] Coach Robiskie’s done an outstanding job with him, but James has really taken it to a level for a rookie free agent, not getting the reps early in camp, to really dominate in the reps that he did get and really turning our heads and that’s the key to a rookie free agent making the team.
“Evolving into a starter is almost impossible without any preseason games, but he made us all feel very comfortable about it with his ability to do the right thing and then when he does have the ball, he makes something happen.”
In the end, Robinson will be the likely first-team running back out on the gridiron with the Jaguars’ offense on Sunday. Perhaps even more with second-year back, Ozigbo, missing practice today due to a hamstring injury. Gruden feels good, and knows he will be ready.
“I’m excited to watch him play and I know he’s excited. He won’t show it though. I haven’t seen him smile but twice the whole time he’s been here. He’s a very focused guy and I think he’ll be ready. I know he’ll be ready I should say. I’m sorry, I know he’ll be ready.”