If there was one play that summarized Denard Robinson’s star-crossed rookie season last year, it occurred on Dec. 15 when he ripped off a 24-yard run against the Buffalo Bills.
He was at the 1-yard line ready to score. Then safety Aaron Williams caught Robinson from behind and knocked the ball out of his hands and out of the end zone for a touchback.
The Jaguars got no points on that drive and lost 27-20.
Robinson’s struggles last year showed how difficult it can be to switch positions while trying to make the transition from college to the NFL.
Robinson, who as a sophomore at Michigan became the only player in NCAA history to pass and run for more than 1,500 yards in a season, didn’t have a position in the NFL. He ran the ball, played some wide receiver, some Wildcat at quarterback, some kick returns and special teams work.
Robinson never got enough reps at one position to get in a groove. He played just 52 snaps all year and lost fumbles three times in games.
Now, Robinson’s role is more clearly defined. He plays one position.
“He understands he is a running back,’’ said Jaguars coach Gus Bradley.
Robinson has embraced his new position and bulked up from about 197 to 212 pounds when he returned this week for the start of offseason conditioning drills.
The Jaguars won’t be able to look at him in practice until organized team activities start next month, but Bradley likes what he’s seen of Robinson so far.
“He’s a more confident athlete and I think he is really looking forward to this,’’ Bradley said.
Robinson worked out recently with quarterback Chad Henne catching passes and Bradley said, “I think that he caught a lot of passes. Some of the [nagging] injuries that took place held him back, but now he’s at 100 percent. I think all those things put together he’s headed in the right direction.’’
Robinson said, “I’m excited to make something happen. Whatever they ask me to do, that’s what I’m doing.’’
Robinson acknowledged he started to press last season, which contributed to a disappointing rookie season.
“I wanted to be so good,’’ he said, “I started to lose focus.’’
Henne said of Robinson’s missteps last year, “He had some explosive plays and then he’d take a step backwards and fumble or miss an assignment. That’s going to happen to a rookie. It happens to all of us.
“You see his college tape and some of the runs he broke off last year. He’s got a lot of talent, a lot of speed. I think he can be a very good running back in this league.’’
That position is somewhat in flux for the Jaguars this season because Maurice Jones-Drew left and it’s uncertain what specific role Robinson will have.
Toby Gerhart was signed as a free agent to be the starter and Bradley said, “Toby comes in and he will be No. 1 on the depth chart, but he also knows there’s competition. We want to give guys an opportunity to feel like they’ve got a legit shot to really help our team improve. We’ll see how that occurs.’’
Robinson will likely compete with Jordan Todman, who had 76 carries for 256 yards last year, for the backup job.
When Robinson was asked about his role, he said, “I’ll just go out there and play my best. Be the best I can be. I don’t worry about anybody else. I play my game.’’