Three weeks into the pre-season, our $32.5 million dollar man is looking a lot like the $0.675 million dollar man he was at the beginning of last year. The contractually-anointed #1 receiver for the Jaguars has a total of 1 catch for 7 yards ( = 0 fantasy points, for those so inclined) in three preseason games, and no catches while playing alongside fellow starter Justin Blackmon. For a player with a history of success, a slow pre-season would be hardly noteworthy – it took a potentially career-ending injury for pre-season stats to determine the media’s and fan’s perception of the state that Peyton Manning was in before the season. But for a player like Robinson – a player with no significant prior history of NFL success – a start to the pre-season like this has fans (and likely, the Jaguars coaching staff) worried. Will he step up? He’s only done so once in his career. Will he be a flash-in-the-pan player – one of the Eddie Royal, Brent Celek, and Peyton Hillis mold? Will he be the latest Vanilla Ice / Baha Men of the NFL?
What’s even more worrisome about Robinson is that his struggles can be documented back to the beginning of training camp. Robinson was found “pressing” and “trying to find his groove”, with the Jaguars passing game as a whole being criticized by its coaches early in camp. After three pre-season games, it appears as if the Jaguars first-team offense has made strides; yet Robinson looks left behind. He’s caused more pass-interference penalties (2) than he has catches, and although causing pass-interference penalties is clearly a positive thing, having one catch through three games is just as clearly negative.
However, there are reasons not to think that the state of Laurent Robinson is all that dire. To start, remember that before the season started, Robinson was catching passes from arguably the worst quarterback in the NFL last year. There clearly was an adjustment period that had to take place – one that was highly influenced by Blaine’s growth in the offseason and during training camp. Furthermore, although there was quite a bit of negative press surrounding Robinson at the beginning of training camp, the tune turned positive as training camp progressed. As we moved deeper into training camp, Robinson “appeared to get on the same page” as Gabbert and that the “growing confidence between the two players was evident”. Moreover, Robinson has been “getting open consistently” – which was a major factor hindering the wide receiver play and Gabbert’s development last year.
Lastly, it’s easy to forget Laurent Robinson’s history in all of this. I know we expected a number 1 receiver at his peak age (27) when we signed Robinson, but for that expectation Robinson is very much a work in progress. The injury-plagued star that we signed has started just 24 games – under two seasons worth – and played in 52 games – just over three seasons worth. Moreover, he has had no experience as a number one receiver – a player who dictates the way defensive coverages are organized. Although he’s 27, the injuries he’s faced thus far in his NFL career have hindered his development – making it more plausible that it took up to year 5 in the NFL and age 26 for Robinson to finally tap into his potential. It’s not like Robinson hadn’t shown promise before – he had a 100 yard game toward the end of his rookie season and was the leading receiver for the Rams through three games before a fractured fibula sent him to the injured reserve in 2009. At the end of the day, Gene Smith and Co. saw a player in Robinson that finally got an opportunity last year while he was healthy and made the most of it. When they signed him, they expected him to build on that year to develop into the primary down-field threat for a future franchise quarterback – but they didn’t expect him to be “the guy” right away. While as fans we look for a quick reward when it comes to signing free agents, a free agent signing truly can’t be judged for at least two or three years, especially one like this in which the player has to adapt to a new role. But we may not even have to wait a couple years. By all reports, Robinson and Coach Mularkey are both “optimistic”, and it’s not completely unexpected to see a guy who took some time to get adjusted at the start of training camp to also need a little time to get adjusted to game-action during the pre-season.
Patience, young grasshoppers. Let’s give the cat a chance before we throw him to the wolves.
– Zain Gowani