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Brian Robinson is becoming more than a downhill threat

07292022 Training Camp EF237

Ron Rivera used the same buzz words many have come to associate with third-round pick Brian Robinson at the start of the Washington Commanders' training camp: he's a big, strong, powerful, downhill runner.

Rivera didn't mention Robinson's versatility at the time, but he's starting to flash some of that as well.

Robinson, a third-round pick in April, had a defined role in the Commanders' backfield from the moment Rivera called to tell him that he was joining the Burgundy & Gold. He's going to be the complement to Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic in the backfield, giving Washington a balance of power and speed.

But Robinson has been getting attention for traits besides his physicality. He's been used on outside runs, and he's starting to become a reliable pass-catcher. His performance shows that he can be more than a power back, if needed.

"That's one of the exciting things about a big guy like him out in space," Rivera said. "You get on one-on-one, you make a cut and the next thing you know, you're into the second level."

Robinson's ability as a receiver has been surprising to some, but that's been part of his skill set since playing at Alabama. In fact, he's coming off the best season of his college career with 35 receptions for 296 yards and two touchdowns in 2021.

Robinson hasn't been targeted too much during team drills, but the media and fans in attendance get a peak at him as a receiver during individual drills. He even had one impressive catch down the left sideline from Wentz on Friday.

Rivera said that Robinson has "a little bit of shake to him," which should be useful if Robinson does find himself as a pass-catcher outside the tackle box.

"You got corners and smaller DB'S having to tackle him," Rivera added. "That's a pretty good matchup for us."

Rivera complemented Robinson's lateral quickness and quick feet during rookie minicamp. There wasn't much of a chance to show that off back in May, when he and the rest of the rookies were still learning the offense, but it's starting to become more consistent.

The latest example of how Robinson's blend of size and quickness came near the beginning of Friday's practice. Robinson took the handoff to the left, and as the play developed around him, he turned the corner near the sideline and sprinted forward for a 15-yard gain, causing the fans on the opposite sideline to cheer.

There are times when Taylor Heinicke, who has worked a lot with Robinson in the second offensive group, just likes to stand back and watch him run.

"He's a big dude," Heinicke said. "He's a big guy. He's going to be tough to bring down and I'm excited to see what he can do."

Robinson's style has been a joy for the offensive line to experience, too. Tackle Charles Leno Jr. told reporters on Thursday that's been fun to block for a back with such a natural running style.

"He just understands patience and lanes and you know where to hit his creases and things like that," Leno said. "He is a big guy. So getting...when he gets his pad vertical, he is going to be really tough to stop."

Of course, physicality will always be Robinson's core traits, although there wasn't much of that to start camp with players dressing in just jerseys and helmets. With Washington starting to wear pads more often, including Saturday's practice at FedExField, Rivera believes we'll start to see more of Robinson's hard-hitting style.

"You look at Brian, you see that with the pads on the way he hits the holes and you see a little bit more lean, which is big."

Even without flaunting his ability as the big, strong, physical, downhill runner that Washington believes it is getting in Robinson, the rookie has proven that he can be a weapon, no matter how he gets the ball.

It doesn't necessarily change his spot on the depth chart; Gibson and McKissic are still the No. 1 and No. 2 options in the backfield. That leaves Robinson needing to make the most of his opportunities. It helps that Robinson is showing there are more ways to get him the ball besides attacking the middle of the defense.

"If I was a corner," Heinicke said, "I wouldn't want to tackle him."

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