JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When it comes to returning kickoffs, Denard Robinson has largely been like an outfielder watching one home run after another sailing helplessly over his head.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have gotten plenty of use through their first two preseason games in some areas out of Robinson, the fifth-round draft pick who finished his career at Michigan as college football’s all-time leader in rushing yardage by a quarterback. And having lost 27-3 to the Miami Dolphins and 37-13 to the New York Jets, it’s not as if the Jaguars have lacked for opportunities from their kickoff return unit.
But Robinson will go into Saturday night’s home game against the Philadelphia Eagles still searching for that elusive first runback. All of the kicks he has seen thus far have gone out of bounds, been boomed out of the end zone or been caught too deep in the end zone for him to bring out without incurring the wrath of coach Gus Bradley.
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“Of course you want to make plays. But don’t force it,” he said. “Coach has always told me, ‘Leave the miracles to God.’ “
Robinson’s 20 carries are almost twice as many as any other running back on the Jaguars. While he has yet to break off a gain of more than 9 yards, there has yet to be a fumble on any of the handoffs he has gotten. But the transition to becoming a kick returner hasn’t been quite as seamless.
“There are bumps in the road,” Robinson said. “But I’m getting used to it. Every day, I try to work on something.”
Veterans Jordan Shipley and Justin Forsett have taken the time in practice to instruct Robinson on some of the finer points. Forsett, who remains sidelined because of a turf toe injury, has emphasized to him the importance of getting his feet squared and planted before catching the ball.
“Once he gets the ball in his hands, he’s electrifying,” Forsett said. “It’s exciting to see.”
The Jaguars aren’t using Robinson as a punt returner, with him admitting that “punts got the best of me early.” Wide receiver Ace Sanders was drafted in the fourth round with that purpose in mind, but Bradley plans to give him a break from those responsibilities for the second week in a row.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Bradley wants to see if Tobias Palmer, who has already muffed two punts resulting in turnovers, can redeem himself against the Eagles. Asked if Palmer would be back deep instead of Sanders, Bradley replied, “I didn’t say that either.”