JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Denard Robinson was all over the field as a rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year.
He lined up at quarterback, running back, receiver, punt returner, kickoff returner and even at gunner on both coverage units. Learning all those positions was easy compared to perfecting them.
The former Michigan star struggled with ball security, putting it on the ground way more often than the Jaguars wanted in practice and games. Amid those concerns, Robinson spent much of his first season on the sideline. He finished with 20 carries for 66 yards, misfired on his only pass attempt and fumbled three times.
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The Jaguars responded by narrowing Robinson’s role to running back. Robinson responded by working on his pass-catching and ball-handling skills relentlessly during the offseason.
Now, he’s being lauded for his hands.
”He put the work in this offseason,” receiver Cecil Shorts III said. ”He was up here working out. He’s a lot more confident in everything. He was a quarterback his entire life until last year. There’s a difference between running from the shotgun and scrambling and actually looking in the holes and making cuts and doing stuff like that and playing against NFL talent week in and week out.
”It’s a big difference. I think he’s gotten comfortable with the offense. He understands his role. He understands what he needs to do get better, and I feel like he’ll have an exciting year.”
Robinson has been one of Jacksonville’s standouts during organized team activities, which conclude with a mandatory, three-day minicamp this week. Until last Thursday, he hadn’t put the ball on the ground once during dozens of opportunities. But then he dropped a short pass during 11-on-11 drills.
”It happens to everybody,” said Robinson, a fifth-round draft pick in 2013. ”I was trying to avoid it. I didn’t want it to happen. That’s what you prepare for. You don’t want things like that to happen, but when adversity comes, what are you going to do? You get back up and move on to the next play.”
Robinson’s easygoing attitude has been a big reason he’s been able to transition from star quarterback in college to role player in the NFL.
He welcomed the position change and did anything and everything asked of him last season – even if it wasn’t always comfortable.
”We were just trying to figure him out and figure out where’s his strength and how can we best utilize his skills,” coach Gus Bradley said. ”It takes some time to do that, but I think we’ve honed in on it a little bit more.”
The Jaguars have settled on Robinson’s role. There’s no experimenting with him on punt/kick returns or at quarterback. Sure, he still might take a snap from the wildcat formation or maybe make a short throw as part of a trick play, but he’s unlikely to heave the ball downfield or even be asked to get out in pass routes.
Most everything he’s doing now is from the backfield, whether he’s taking handoffs, pitches or short passes and then using his speed in space.
”It would be a mistake to start piling it back on him,” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. ”We want to really give these guys their roles, give them their vision, connect them to it and then make sure their focus stays with that.”
Robinson caught more than a hundred balls a day in the first four months of this year, working with Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne, friends and even family members in hopes of getting better.
”I played quarterback my whole life, so I never really thought about catching the ball,” he said. ”Now, that’s all I’m doing. If you have natural good hands, it happens. I think I’ve got natural hands. Last year I didn’t showcase it. This year, I’ve got a chance to showcase it.”
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