One of Terry Robiskie’s favorite teaching tactics is to ask questions with incorrect information in order to separate players who really know their missions from yes ones.
In a room full of Jaguars running backs in 2020, the longtime NFL assistant coach mentioned sweeping defense from free safety to cornerback instead of correctly reading free safety to safety strong. And he intentionally confused the strong-side and weak-side blocking responsibilities of offensive backs and linemen.
Undrafted rookie James Robinson was the quietest person in the room – until those trick questions.
“James was always the guy to correct me,” Robiskie told the Post. “I was amazed at how much he was able to learn our pass protection system because it was complicated. He made sure we were always on the same page. He knew where he was supposed to be and he was able to help other guys when his guy wasn’t rushing.
Robinson, 24, is the newest addition to the Jets, acquired Monday from the Jaguars for a conditional sixth-round draft pick in immediate response to rookie running back Breece Hall’s season-ending ACL tear. In three years, Robinson went from setting the NFL record for most yards from scrimmage by an undrafted rookie (1,414) to not touching the ball last week against the Giants as the Jaguars turned to 2021 first-round draft pick Travis Etienne in the backfield.
Former Jaguars quarterback Mike Glennon echoes Robiskie’s sentiment that Robinson is “smart enough to figure things out pretty quickly” and should be “ready to go right away.” Glennon recalled that the locker room was as surprised as the rest of the NFL in September 2020 when the Jaguars cut Leonard Fournette and named Robinson as the starter. Without pre-season games due to COVID-19, it was difficult to assess how his play in practice would translate to a live tackle.
“It’s a big shot to cut a former top-five pick and go with an undrafted guy,” Glennon said Tuesday afternoon, “but this first game of the season, you might say, ‘How didn’t this guy get drafted? It really is a full back. It turns 2-yard runs into 4-yard runs and 4-yard runs into 6- or 8-yard runs.
The Jets will undeniably lose some home run ability without Hall, who had five scrimmage gains from at least 20 yards. Michael Carter, Ty Johnson and Zonovan Knight (signed off the practice squad on Tuesday) may need to provide the big plays, while Robinson (81 carries for 340 yards and three touchdowns) runs with downhill strength. Averaging just 173.2 passing yards during their four-game winning streak, the Jets can’t afford to miss a beat on the ground.
“When you want to hammer people, take your time and wear them down, James is very capable of that,” Robiskie said. “He’s tough to take down one-on-one. And he has good hands out of the backfield. He’ll get you a first down if you throw a darting pass or a flare at him. Whatever they decide to do, if they want to spin it, he really is a team player. He gave everything he had for me all year.
With the NFL in his sights, Robinson wasn’t looking to put his body first at Illinois State. He carried 102 times for 629 yards and three touchdowns in a remarkable three-game span in the FCS playoffs as a senior.
“He almost got us back to the national championship game,” head coach Brock Spack said. “North Dakota State fans were hanging over the rails as he walked away to give him a standing ovation because they know a great player when they see one. He is used to having a program on his back.
According to Spack and Robiskie, Robinson’s 4.64-second dash for 40 yards at the NFL combine is likely the biggest reason he wasn’t drafted. Illinois State’s Pro Day was canceled, so it couldn’t start again.
“I recruited Mike Alstott from Purdue,” Spack said of the former All-Pro fullback, “and they’re similar in that whatever speed they’re at, they get to that speed very quickly. Different backs , but James is very sudden. He could have played [weakside] linebacker for me in the Big Ten. He has that kind of explosiveness and tenacity.
Then-Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone was Robinson’s biggest supporter in the scouting process, Robiskie said, and it paid off when the rookie became the only bright spot in a season 1-15. Marrone and his team were fired, short-lived successor Urban Meyer drafted Etienne (who missed his entire rookie season) and Robinson surprisingly returned from a torn Achilles suffered on December 26 in time to force a timeshare with Etienne at the start of this season.
“I’m thrilled he’s getting a fresh start,” Glennon said. “I don’t think he lost it. He looked really good when I saw him earlier this year. [His rookie year] was amazing and he was the same guy the whole time: he came to work quietly, got all these accolades and was one of the best running backs in the NFL – and you wouldn’t know it at all. I have a lot of respect for him. The Jets should be happy with who they put on and off the field.
New York Post