Jay Gruden Thinks James Robinson Had a 'Great Start' in Debut
When the Jacksonville Jaguars released former star running back Leonard Fournette 13 days before Week 1's home opener vs. the Indianapolis Colts, it was clear the team was taking a gamble on the ultimate hidden gem: undrafted rookie running back James Robinson.
Despite there being no preseason to test Robinson in, the Jaguars were confident enough in Robinson to give him every single one of the team's carries in the 27-20 upset of the Colts. Robinson would rush 16 times for 62 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and catch one pass for 28 yards, Jacksonville's biggest offensive play of the day.
"I thought he was great, man," Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said in a media conference on Wednesday.
"I mean, the first drive of the game, we started out with two runs, really three runs in a row. He got the first down in our first two carries, which is exciting. And he broke the other one, which we got the holding call, the face mask, which I never saw the facemask on that play."
Robinson's hurdle over Colts' defenders would be the biggest highlight from Jacksonville's Week 1 victory, but it would also help the Jaguars shift the momentum in their favor. Roughly three minutes after Robinson's big catch and run, Jacksonville took the lead for the first time on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Gardner Minshew to Keelan Cole, putting Jacksonville up 24-20.
"But he ran good and the play he caught on the backfield, it really sparked us because it was a second down and 10 or 11, I believe, in the little ho-ho screen that we ran," Gruden said. "He broke a tackle, jumped over a guy and got us in midfield, so that was a big spark in the game."
Robinson became the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to start on Kickoff Weekend since 1990, and his 90 scrimmage yards were the sixth-most ever by an undrafted rookie on Kickoff Weekend, according to the Jaguars. He displayed good vision, burst, agility and instincts throughout the game but especially during his dominant first half (10 carries for 61 yards).
While Robinson didn't get much done on the ground in the second half, it was more so due to the Colts adding an extra defender to the box, and the Jaguars losing their trench battles than it was Robinson making mistakes.
"But to watch him play, he picked up a blitz extremely well. He stuck his face in there, he ran physical, he ran with good vision like we thought, he protected the football which was critical," Gruden said.
"He had some runs in between tackles where he had numerous players and arms on his arms, and he protected the ball. So, great start for James, man, very impressive.”
With Fournette no longer in Jacksonville to lead the rushing attack, Robinson should be expected to continue to be the offense's workhorse. Devine Ozigbo is on injured reserve with a hamstring injury while Ryquell Armstead is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, so there is no real reason to think the Jaguars won't continue to lean on Robinson.
Robinson's next chance to impress Gruden and the rest of the Jaguars staff will be in Week 2 vs. the Tennessee Titans, a game in which Gruden has already said Robinson will play a large role in.
“I don’t know if it’ll change a whole lot, they do a couple things [differently] in their fronts and some of their blitz patterns. But for the most part, if we want to be a successful team here, it should start with the run. And James is going to be a big part of that because everything will open up off of that," Gruden said.
"We’re able to complete some naked bootlegs, we’re able to do some play actions—which were very beneficial to us. So, in order for those plays to work, you’ve got to stay on track on first, second down and the running game is critical for us. So, different scheme defensively, but we have the same approach. We’ve got to try and run the ball, establish a run, establish our physical identity for us to be successful.”