A tough year for the Jacksonville Jaguars has forced the team to abandon their plans, first at quarterback with rookie Blake Bortles getting to start ahead of veteran Chad Henne, and then second-year running back Denard Robinson joining Bortles in the backfield.
A collegiate quarterback at Michigan, Robinson is a unique athlete and personality, as from the age of 10 in Pee-Wee Football, he hasn’t tied his shoelaces, as Ryan Kartje wrote for the Michigan Daily in 2010:
“Kids would go for his shoes on tackles, and he’d come up to the huddle in just socks. His coach couldn’t stand it at first and neither could his parents. They’d tie wristbands around his shoes. When that didn’t work, they tried athletic tape. They even rolled his socks over his shoes. He was a marvel, and he wasn’t even finished with the sixth grade.”
The routine hasn’t changed for Robinson since (according to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg), who became a high school football and track star who ran a 4.32 40 yard dash and a 10.44 100 meters sprint, thus giving him the nickname “Shoelace”. For the Michigan Wolverines from 2009-2012, Robinson finished his career with 6,250 passing yards, 49 touchdowns and 39 interceptions while also rushing for 4,495 yards and 42 touchdowns, and helped them improve from 12 wins in his first two years to 20 in the final two.
But with a career completion percentage of only 57.2%, and his great speed (4.43 40 yard dash at the NFL combine), Robinson tried to showcase his skills as a receiver during the draft process, but fell to the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft to the Jaguars, who made him the 135th selection, drafting him as a running back. Despite changing his position from college quarterback to “offensive weapon”, Jacksonville has not asked him to deviate from his habits with his shoes, as ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky wrote in the summer of 2013:
“I wasn’t tied, but coach told me to knot it up, so I knotted it up, but loose,” he said. “It’s something I always did my whole life.”
Thursday following the team’s final minicamp practice, he let me snap a photo to share with you.
“My first year playing football I ran out of them a couple times, and I ran out of one last year,” he said. “As long as they stay on my feet. Coach told me if they come off he’s going to tell me to tie them up.”
Coach Gus Bradley said he saw a shoe come off Robinson this week when Robinson got kicked.
“If it doesn’t have an impact on the game and it’s within the rules, whatever allows you to play the best,” Bradley said. “It’s comfort level. Do you get your ankles taped or not? Players have a rhythm or a routine they like to follow. As long as it’s within the rules, I’m fine with it.”
In his rookie season in 2013, Robinson did not get many opportunities to run with his unique apparel, as he only had 20 carries for 66 yards, and had three fumbles (two of them lost). His playing time didn’t increase much early in the 2014 campaign, as the signing of Toby Gerhart, a straight ahead power back-type, to a three year, $10.5 million contract in the offseason appeared to make Robinson an afterthought at running back, as with only two starts in the first six games, the second-year player had a measly 28 carries for 94 yards (3.36 yards per carry)
But with Robinson as the focal point in the offense, the Jaguars have played very good football, as he ran for 127 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown in a 24-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville’s first win of the season. Robinson then ran for 108 yards on 18 carries against the Miami Dolphins in week 8 in a 27-13 loss, and helped keep the Jaguars competitive in a 33-23 loss on Sunday at the Cincinnati Bengals with 94 yards on 17 carries, recording on 329 yards on 57 carries (5.77 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, reaching 423 yards on the season on 85 carries.
Though Jacksonville is only 1-8, Robinson’s recent surge only adds to an impressive group of young offensive talent in Bortles and rookie receivers Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, and Allen Robinson. While not the orthodox running back the Jaguars were hoping to pair with their rookie quarterback, nothing about Robinson conforms to the norm, but he has proven to be a special talent to go along with his rare footwear routine.
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