JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Denard Robinson swung out of the backfield to catch a routine-looking pass from Blaine Gabbert, and he dropped it like a hot potato.
Robinson and potatoes have a recent history that he would prefer to erase from his memory. While slicing them in his kitchen with a new set of knives not long after being drafted in the fifth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he accidentally sustained a cut on his right hand between his thumb and forefinger that required stitches and forced him to keep the hand wrapped during the team’s organized team activities.
The bandage was gone Friday morning when the Jaguars opened training camp. But as that play showed, the former Michigan quarterback, who his new team has labeled an “offensive weapon,” still has a ways to go in his transition to the NFL game.
“Anybody who catches a ball doesn’t want to drop any passes,” Robinson said. “So as I get better, I won’t drop any passes at all.”
At best, Robinson is third on the depth chart at running back behind Maurice Jones-Drew, whose first practice since receiving medical clearance to resume full activities went off without a hitch, and offseason free-agent pickup Justin Forsett. The Jaguars aren’t expected to work out in full pads until Wednesday, so it’s not as if the 6-foot, 197-pound native of Deerfield Beach, Fla., absolutely had to prove his value away.
His elusiveness was evident on a couple of occasions after taking middle screens, and he also spent time at the beginning of practice with the Jaguars’ possible kick returners.
“Everybody was flying around and trying to show their skills off,” Robinson said. “You’ve got to get ready for it.”
“He’s a work in progress,” coach Gus Bradley said. “He’s got tremendous ability. We’ve just got to continue to refine it. From OTAs and minicamp to now, he’s made really good progress.”
Antwaan Randle El was able to go from a quarterback in the Big Ten Conference to a wide receiver and kick returner who helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win a Super Bowl. But successful converts to running back are far less common than when Paul Hornung starred for the Green Bay Packers during the Vince Lombardi era.
“It’s a different monster,” Jones-Drew said. “But I think he can do it. In that system at Michigan, he ran the ball a lot. So he’s used to taking hits, which a lot of quarterbacks aren’t. He’ll be all right. He’ll make the adjustment very quickly.”
General manager Dave Caldwell has said the Jaguars would like to give Robinson between 10 and 15 touches a game. That’s going to have to be based on merit, not just potential.
“When he’s on the field, the other 10 guys on offense have got to be able to trust him,” Bradley said. “And he’s got to continue to build that trust.”
Robinson and Jones-Drew are separated by almost six years and vastly different college backgrounds. But they already seem to have hit it off professionally.
“It’s always good to see one of those guys like that, a veteran,” Robinson said. “He can help you with a lot of different things and talk to you all the time. And he can actually show us. He’s showing us he can run the ball. He’s showing us how to pick up the blitzes and all that stuff.”
“Obviously the tying-the-shoe thing is a little different,” Jones-Drew said, chuckling at Robinson’s habit of having no use for shoelaces. “But he’s very explosive, makes cuts. He has to learn a bunch of positions. That’s probably the toughest business for him, learning all these different positions he’s going to play. But he can make plays. So it’s going to be exciting to be out there with him.”
Jones-Drew admitted to feeling cautious about doing certain things eight months after undergoing surgery on his left foot. But he held up well in the heat and humidity and got in what he thought was the right amount of work.
“I felt great today,” he said. “No setbacks, no nothing.”
“We have a plan for Maurice,” Bradley said. “And to see him make some cuts, to see him go through the line and catch some balls and things like that in practice, he’s right where we thought he would be.”
Mohamed Massaquoi took most of the reps with the first unit on offense in wide receiver Justin Blackmon’s absence, while Chris Prosinski filled in as strong safety for rookie Johnathan Cyprien.
Both Blackmon (groin surgery) and Cyprien (right hamstring) were placed on the physically unable to perform list earlier in the week, although Cyprien is expected to practice within the next few days.