Let’s liken for a moment Allen Robinson’s debut season with the Bears to an LED light bulb.
Sure, they’re cost effective, and the Bears will tell you A-Rob arguably came to them at a discount after signing a three-year, $42 million deal only six months removed from a torn ACL.
But, even more similar to an LED light bulb, Robinson needed time to reach his full brightness last season, after playing only three snaps in 2017 before the injury that ended his Jaguars career.
A-Rob's gradual brightening was expected coming off the injury, and there were flickers throughout, such as his scoring in consecutive starts in Weeks 4-6 and his return with vengeance to dominate the Lions in his first two-TD, 100-yard effort in nearly three calendar years.
Yet just as A-Rob’s unadulterated WR1 prowess reached full illumination in January with him setting the franchise’s single-playoff game receiving record, the Bears season came to an unexpected halt.
“We go out in the Philly game, and everything that we had talked about him possibly being able to do, he was doing it,” Bears WR coach Mike Furrey said of Robinson’s 10-catch, 143-yard outburst — including five for 102 and the go-ahead touchdown in the final 16-plus minutes, i.e., crunch time of his NFL playoff debut. “And you’re just like, wow a light went on, now he’s in the rhythm, now he gets it, and then all of a sudden, now we’re in the offseason.”
The good news? Unlike last spring, when he was still rehabbing his knee rather than earnestly beginning to build his rapport with QB Mitch Trubisky — never mind learn a fourth new offense in his first five NFL seasons — Robinson was able to pick up where he left off in January.
“We’ve been very clean,” he said of the offense’s work in OTAs. “The timing of things, and certain routes, you can tell that we’ve been there before, that we’ve ran that before. Again, last year a lot of the stuff we were running for the very first time. Now most of our stuff is very smooth. You can tell we have been in this offense before.”
Having the opportunity he lacked last year to review their progress in practice on film isn’t one Robinson takes for granted.
“I think it’s very important for me,” Robinson said. “Being able to get a good assessment of myself before getting to training camp is big.”
That’s beneficial not only for Robinson but his younger receiving mates — those who were here, like Anthony Miller and Javon Wims, and incoming rookies Riley Ridley and Emanuel Hall.
“There’s film now we can go back and watch and say you’ve done this, you’ve done that,” Furrey said. “The rookies can look at him and say look at the routes he ran, look at what he did in that Philly game, how he ran stuff and just kind of how he carries himself.”
And in that Philly game, Robinson’s peers will see a burgeoning QB-WR connection that carried the offense when all the chips were in. Robinson might never put up Michael Thomas- or Antonio Brown-esque numbers in Matt Nagy’s spread-it-around attack, but his potential to do so in a pinch is now evident.
What that means for the Bears offense, not just having an Alpha No. 1 receiver but more so a group of guys now fully in tune with QB Mitch Trubisky, what they’re learning in level 202 of Nagy’s course figures to make the offense a lot more formidable to defend.
“We’re in this mode where we want to make plays. We’re not just getting ourselves into completions or just running plays to be running them,” Robinson said. “We’re really trying to attack the defense and really beat the defense each and every play and really get to something that beats the defense each and every play to create explosive plays.”
The Bears now know what Robinson brings to the table physically: blue-chip route running, ball skills and competitiveness. Now the excitement stems from his own mastery of the offense, and subsequently, how bright it allows him to shine.
“The exciting part is going to be see his growth now — not just physical growth because he’s got a history of that, he’s got that — but now it’s going to be where can he take his game mentally, and now he knows, he’s been through it.”