Before he aggravated a groin injury against the Patriots, Bears WR Allen Robinson had synched up well with QB Mitch Trubisky, catching 24 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns in their first five games together.
But the Bears’ most accomplished wideout, the one with the best combination of size, strength and experience, has spent the past three weeks recovering. Meanwhile, Trubisky has utilized other weapons like WRs Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller, TE Trey Burton and RB Tarik Cohen. But Trubisky has struggled in those three games, posting two of his three lowest passer ratings this season.
Now it appears Robinson, who practiced on a Wednesday for the first time in three weeks, will be back for Sunday’s game vs. the Lions. It’s the first of the Bears’ three straight NFC North showdowns. But how long will it take for Trubisky to rekindle the rapport he had with Robinson?
“I don’t think it’ll be that difficult,” Trubisky said. “We’ll just get all the reps in practice, and we’ve been getting some of the reps, even though he hasn’t been playing. We’ll continue to build that chemistry, and I think we’ll pick back up right where we left off.”
In Matt Nagy’s offense, the Bears don’t have a go-to receiver per se, but Robinson, who caught 153 passes for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and ’16 in Jacksonville, has all the qualities that are valued in that type of receiver.
“He’s got really high football IQ,” Trubisky said. “He handles himself really well as a pro, knows all the receiver spots, so he can help other guys get lined up. He knows how to run routes and how his route fits within each concept to get open. You (have) all those intangibles, along with great hands, route-running ability and being physical. He makes it easy for a quarterback. He’s easy to throw to, and he gets open.”
Robinson missed all but three snaps of the 2017 season with a torn ACL in his last season with the Jaguars, but he quickly established himself as the alpha male in the Bears’ WR room by demonstrating maturity far beyond his 25 years. His presence is a security blanket, not just for Trubisky, but for the WR group as a whole.
“There's that comfort level,” Nagy said. “He's worked extremely hard not only physically to come back from his injury, but also mentally to take in this playbook. He's a leader in that WR room, and our guys feel that. They know that, and he leads by example. He's not a real vocal guy when he doesn't have to be, it's just more of comforting for everybody, coaches included, to get him out there.”
If there was an upside to Robinson’s absence, it’s that it provided an opportunity for rookie Anthony Miller to build his relationship with Trubisky. The second-round draft pick (51st overall) out of Memphis caught 10 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in three games.
“We put a lot on his plate as far as coming in as a rookie, learning a whole new offense and then putting him in a bunch of different spots as a receiver,” Trubisky said. “He's done a great job digesting all of it and figuring out where he fits in all the concepts — how to run routes against man and against zone — and he puts his own little flavor on everything.”
In training camp, Miller had a tendency to put a bit too much of his own flavor into his routes, at the expense of precision and discipline. He’s learned that it’s not just about getting open, but being exactly where you’re supposed to be at exactly the right time.
“The biggest thing is, he knows he can be really good,” Bears WR coach Mike Furrey said. “But he’s had to (think): ‘What will make me better?’ The biggest thing that’s made him better is, he’s saying, ‘OK, I need to be more disciplined and more detailed on routes.’ ”
Miller also drew a 43-yard pass interference penalty on Bills CB Phillip Gaines that set up the final touchdown.
“He's continuously getting better each week,” Trubisky said. “And the more that me and him can throw and get on the same page and continue to build that great chemistry, the better we'll get as an offense.”