ASHBURN, Va. — Washington Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. has struggled with a gunshot wound, knee surgery and a rookie season that unfolded in ways he never expected. Now, he and the Commanders hope, the NFL must contend with the player he can be.
“People can expect a lot of great things to happen compared to what I limped last year,” he said. “I feel like last year day and night. I feel more like myself every day.”
Robinson was shot twice in the leg in the early evening of August 28 while out to dinner with a friend in Washington, DC. Police said it was an attempted car theft/robbery. Robinson was shot in his right knee and hip, but managed to pull the gun away from one of his attackers. Two young people were sentenced to six and four years respectively – until they reached the age of 21 – in youth welfare detention
Robinson, who is expected to become Washington’s lead runner, underwent surgery and missed the first four games. He averaged 3.4 yards per streak on his first 108 carries — before averaging 5.7 yards per streak for three games and streaking for 290 yards combined. At this point, Washington was beginning to see the running back it drafted in the third round in 2022; The team even watched him run over a Falcons player on a carry. During this phase, he displayed the vision and one-cut ability that had impressed the Commanders when he played in Alabama.
Coach Ron Rivera said a thigh contusion slowed Robinson after that stretch. This season he has rushed for 797 yards, averaging 3.9 per carry and two touchdowns.
“We had a really good idea of what it could be,” Rivera said. “What we’re seeing now is a more mature version of last year’s guy who graduated from camp [before the shooting]. There is still a long way to go, but there is a lot to promise.”
But running backs coach Randy Jordan said Robinson told him in the offseason, “You haven’t seen the real me.”
“I said, ‘Damn, let’s see the real you this year,'” Jordan said. “If you look at what he’s done as a player – not just the physical part but also the mental toughness it takes to come back… I’m excited to see what he can do with a full season.”
Robinson is expected to still be Washington’s main defense this season, while Antonio Gibson will serve as third-back. Robinson also expects a bigger role in passing under new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. In fact, Robinson has made several nice catches in practice, including a one-hander on the sidelines while running various routes on Wednesday.
“I don’t want to be one-dimensional,” Robinson said.
Still, he wants to be thankful that the shooting didn’t end much worse for him.
“I’m very grateful,” he said. “Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful and appreciative of everyone who was close to me from the moment it all happened. I make sure that at every opportunity I let everyone know how much I appreciate them and how much I appreciate being here.”
Gibson said: “He always has a positive attitude. He knows how to work; he comes in and is ready.”
Robinson said he wanted to be more explosive as a runner. But Jordan said what they like best is how he can convert an apparent 2-yard gain into 6 or 7 yards. And while Robinson is grateful to be here, the commanders are still glad they called him up.
“He’s everything I imagined and probably more,” Jordan said. “The most important thing is you can see his confidence in his leg when he’s making cuts. Its explosive initial speed is better than ever.”