As competition for RB1 heats up, Robinson’s stock keeps rising originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
ASHBURN — Brian Robinson Jr. lugged two armfuls worth of pads and helmets up to the locker room after the Commanders’ training camp session on Tuesday. It’s one way to distinguish new players from veterans, as first-year players around the NFL have to perform their rookie duties without hesitation.
Other than fulfilling his first-year responsibilities, there aren't many reasons to assume Robinson is a rookie. He made a strong first impression during Washington's first preseason game when he scored the first touchdown of the Commanders era on Saturday vs. Carolina.
“Felt pretty good. Finally getting my feet wet, going out there, getting my NFL opportunity,” Robinson told NBC Sports Washington after training camp on Tuesday. “That felt good to bring some positivity to the unit, positive yards, a touchdown.”
Robinson showed the poise and power of a seasoned vet in his first taste of NFL action. That’s not unique to the Carolina game, though—Robinson has wowed coaches throughout OTAs, minicamp and now training camp in Ashburn.
“Brian's been great. He’s a real serious guy, football is extremely important to him,” offensive coordinator Scott Turner said on Tuesday. “He takes a lot of pride in being a physical runner, but he can run too. I was happy and impressed with him the way that he ran."
Turner's pleasant reaction to Robinson could be due to his run style—bruising, powerful yet swift and dynamic—but it could also be because of Robinson's ability to make positive plays no matter the circumstances.
"He wasn’t perfect on his tracks and stuff like that, but he runs so hard and he was still able to gain positive yardage. That’s great to see from a back and I think he’ll continue to get better too as the reps increase,” Turner said.
Thus far in camp, the reps have increased for the rookie out of Alabama. Up until recent weeks, he had solely taken backup snaps behind Antonio Gibson, but of late, Robinson has been taking more first-team reps alongside Carson Wentz during offensive drills.
Gibson was the clear-cut workhorse of Washington’s run game last season, plowing defenses for over 1,300 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns. When he was on, he was on.
But football is never a constant. Gibson led non-quarterbacks in the NFL with six fumbles on the season in 2021. His ball control issues occurred at inopportune times, marring an otherwise strong second year in D.C. He fumbled in Washington's preseason bout vs. Carolina on his second carry of the 2022 campaign.
Ball security is job security in the NFL, and that might just be Brian Robinson’s greatest asset. He rushed 545 times at Alabama and reeled in 52 passes over the course of five years. He didn’t register a single fumble. Not one.
“I mean, that’s rule No. 1 of being a running back is protect the ball,” Robinson said. “I would expect as long as I take care of the ball, I’ll have more opportunities.”
Lately in Ashburn, Gibson has seen at least a minor shift in his role. Though he still reigns as the RB1 for the majority of hours spent on the field, he’s seen reps at kick returner and punt returner in recent weeks, which could potentially be a sign that coaches might want to increase his special team snaps in favor of giving Robinson and J.D. McKissic more snaps at running back.
Ron Rivera said Tuesday after practice that both Gibson and Robinson are working with the 'ones, twos, and threes' as well as special teams in an effort to "use all our players" in multiple scenarios.
But he couldn’t escape questions about the competition for the RB1 role heating up.
“There’s always been a competition for the positions on this team,” Rivera said Tuesday. “Running back will be an unbelievable discussion.”
Robinson doesn’t just run the ball, either. Running backs coach Randy Jordan called the rookie’s pass-catching ability a ‘pleasant surprise’ two weeks ago.
“I’ve always been confident in my hands, I just never had many opportunities to show that I can do that,” Robinson said. “But the more opportunities I get, the more that I’ll show that I can catch.”
For context, Robinson caught 35 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns in Tuscaloosa last year. Gibson’s no slouch in that department, either, as he slashed 42/294/3 for Washington in those categories in 2021, respectively.
Players and coaches alike have been wowed by what the 23-year-old has brought to the Commanders in just a few short months. Given the opportunity, there’s nothing to suggest Robinson would slow down come regular season time. However, as things stand, it’s Gibson’s RB1 job to lose.
Either way, Robinson looks to be a difference maker as things stand in the infant stages of his career. He takes care of the ball, can go through or around would-be tacklers, and can catch the ball with ease.
Is there anything else he can do to stand out?
“Just be me, man,” he said. “Just do what I do as a football player, continue to make plays in the backfield, outside the backfield. As long as I contribute to the unit, I’m good.”