JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson spent last season looking for a niche.
Cecil Shorts III was the veteran of the receiving corps. Marqise Lee was the higher-drafted rookie. Allen Hurns was the team’s biggest surprise.
Robinson was somewhat lost in the mix, especially after missing most of organized team activities, training camp and the preseason with a hamstring injury and then ending up on injured reserve for the final six weeks with a broken right foot.
His first year was mostly forgettable. His second one looks to be much more memorable.
The former Penn State standout has been the star of Jacksonville’s offseason program, showing big-play ability all over the field and most noticeably in and around the end zone.
“He’s been unbelievable,” quarterback Blake Bortles said as the Jaguars wrapped up a mandatory, three-day minicamp. “He’s definitely a threat now in the red zone. … He’s physical. He can run and do everything out in the open field, so he’s been fun to throw to.”
Despite missing so much time, Robinson was one of the few bright spots on one of the league’s worst offenses last year.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Michigan native caught 48 passes for 548 yards and two touchdowns in 2014. He was on pace to break Justin Blackmon’s team record for receptions by a rookie (64) before the stress fracture.
The Jaguars believe it was just a sign of things to come.
“The challenge is for him to play angry,” coach Gus Bradley said. “To play where he’s competing to get the ball, competing in all his routes. I think he is extremely competitive. He’s got a 40-plus vertical jump, and we want to be able to throw it up to him and I know he’s going to come down with the ball. I believe he has that and hopefully we see that.”
Robinson acknowledges that he could have played with more of an edge last year.
But he never felt like he had a defined role, partly because he was a rookie and partly because of his injuries.
“In college, I always had a chip on my shoulder,” Robinson said. “Last year, I kind of relaxed a little bit. It was just that when you get into the league, you’re just trying to find your niche. For me, just trying to find my way through that first season. I think that’s why I fell off that a little bit. But I’m back on it this year. I’m learning to play with the right amount of anger.”
With Shorts gone and Lee sidelined while recovering from a left knee injury, Robinson has become Jacksonville’s go-to guy. Free agent tight end Julius Thomas is expected to be featured in a revamped offense under new coordinator Greg Olson, but it’s become clear that Robinson will be a top target down the field and in the red zone.
“Just trying to make some plays,” he said. “That was my mindset coming into this year. I want to be more of a big-play asset to my team this year. I caught some short routes, some third-down stuff last year. But I really want to have that big-play capability.”
Jacksonville selected Robinson with the 61st overall pick in the 2014 draft, with hopes that he could offset the loss Blackmon (indefinite suspension) and become the team’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Jimmy Smith in 2005.
It didn’t happen as a rookie. It could in his sophomore season.
“I think I’ve got a better understanding of the difference between college and the NFL,” Robinson said. “You have to adapt your game to the NFL style. For me, as the year progressed, I started to get in a little bit of a groove and I started to get the hang of it a little bit. This year, I know what to expect. I know where I had my success last year and I also know my weaknesses. I’m just hoping to build on both.”