Allen Robinson is showing all the signs of becoming the dominant go-to receiver he was before last year’s torn ACL wiped out all but three plays of his 2017 season.
In his last four games, Robinson has averaged 18.0 yards on 16 receptions. But it’s not about the numbers; it’s about the caliber of the catches Robinson has been making, most notably against the Giants last week. Robinson had five catches for 79 yards, and three of the receptions set him far apart from most wideouts.
“I would say he’s back to doing what he can do, and obviously he’s shown that over the last couple of weeks,” Bears WR coach Mike Furrey said. “I think he’s starting to get his legs back under him. He played 70 snaps the other night. He wasn’t capable of that earlier in the season after missing a whole year.
"But I think he’s starting to get more comfortable in our offense, and the quarterbacks are really starting to rely on him to make plays like that.”
Robinson’s first highlight-film catch came in the second quarter, when he reached around Giants CB B.W. Webb and corralled a jump ball against the top of the defender’s helmet, barely in bounds, for a 30-yard gain.
“That really set the tone that you can throw him the ball (any time),” Furrey said. “He wants that role, and so he has a greater understanding of what comes with that role. The catch on the helmet, I was more impressed with him staying in bounds. He’s not going to stop, he’ll continue to get better.”
Later in the game there was also a brilliant toe-tap catch just before going out of bounds and a 10-yard pickup on a fourth-and-7 play in overtime. Basically, they were the kinds of plays Robinson had been making for the Jaguars since they drafted him in the second round (61st overall) out of Penn State in 2014.
Robinson established himself as the main man in Jacksonville with a breakout 2015 season that included 80 receptions for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns and followed up with 73 catches for 883 yards and six touchdowns in 2016.
The Bears invested $42 million over three years in anticipation of the 25-year-old recapturing that production, and their investment is beginning to pay off. The 6-foot-3, 211-pound Robinson’s contributions were moderate in he first half of the season – 25 catches, 285 yards, 11.4-yard average and one touchdown – but he missed two games and most of a third with a groin injury.
Now that he’s injury free, immersed in the offense and secure in his role, Robinson has the confidence to ask for the ball. It’s not a Keyshawn Johnson-like “Gimme the damn ball,” demand, because that’s not Robinson’s way.
But he knows what he’s capable of doing. Just as importantly, so does head coach and offensive play-caller Matt Nagy.
"Going back to training camp, when we first got him, I was trying to figure out myself, No. 1, ‘Physically, how was he?’ ” Nagy said. “No. 2, ‘How does he fit into what we do? What are his best routes?’ I'm figuring that out now, and then he is, too.
“There's been a couple times -- I'm not gonna tell you when -- but he's said to me on the field, 'Hey, give me this.' And the very next play I give it to him, and I love that. When players are feeling that way, I want to know. We weren't doing that the first couple of weeks. Now we're getting to that part.”
Robinson had become used to being the guy the offense revolved around in Jacksonville, but he says he had no trouble adjusting to a situation – at least early in the season – where he was just one of four or five guys.
“I came here to win games,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. I’m trying to do my part to be able to help us do that. We have a lot of selfless guys in this offense, and winning takes a selfless effort from each and every body.
“A big thing for me wanting to come here was I knew this was an (effective) offensive scheme, and that it’s a real offense. It’s not just flood the ball to one person or whatever.
"But I knew I would have the chance to make my plays. So whenever my number is called, I try to do that. It’s translating to wins and that’s the most important thing.”
It’s beginning to look like a win-win situation: The Bears are a first-place team, and Robinson is starting to make plays the way he did when he was one of the NFL’s top receivers.