Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson is entering his third year in the league in 2014.
Although the 2014 season is officially Keenan Robinson's third year in the NFL, injuries have given him few opportunities to prove himself on the field.
So with a starting position open at middle linebacker, the Washington Redskins and Robinson are hoping the 2012 fourth-round draft pick can make the most of his chance – and stay healthy enough – to make a difference for the defense in 2014.
Robinson, who has been taking reps in practices next to starting middle linebacker Perry Riley, said he's ready to turn some heads this season.
"They believe in me, and they are showing they didn't make the wrong decision in drafting me two years ago," Robinson said. "I think my job is to be healthy and get back to where I feel comfortable, but to prove them right that they made the right decision."
Robinson's injury woes began Week 12 of his rookie season. In a Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, he tore his right pectoral muscle and was placed on injured reserve, missing the rest of the season.
He had made a full recovery during the offseason, only to injure his pectoral muscle again -- this time on his left side – the first day of training camp last year, once again ending his year.
Robinson is hoping not to see déjà vu all over again in 2014. He's again fought hard to recover the past 10-plus months, and is seen by the Redskins' coaching staff as a linebacker who has the natural speed to run down ballcarriers in open space, as well as having the size at 6-foot-3, 238 pounds to effectively cover larger tight ends.
"He's a lot further ahead than we anticipated, stamina-wise, mentally," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said of Robinson. "He's doing a great job, obviously, but the linebacker position is hard to judge in shorts. But it is exciting to see him run around --- he's a very fluid athlete."
Robinson starred at the University of Texas, where he was a two-time Butkus Award semifinalist. In his career, he had 317 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 25 tackles for loss, 14 quarterback pressures and two interceptions and fumble recoveries each.
Brian Orakpo, a fellow Longhorn linebacker who played with Robinson at Texas in 2008, has also faced season-ending injuries in his career, and said last season he would be there for Robinson every step of the way.
"We've got to make sure we pick him up," said Orakpo, a three-time Pro Bowler. "And for myself, being in the same, similar situation, man, you've got to do what I did, the proper protocol as far as how to handle it. … Obviously it's his second one, so I'm kind of familiar with that. I'm going to try to help him as much as I can, give him the steps I took to get to the level I am at today."
Should Robinson crack the starting lineup, he'll have the daunting task of replacing legendary Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, who retired after the 2013 season. Fletcher played every game for the Redskins at inside linebacker the past seven seasons, and has been a role model for Robinson as he learned the nuances of the professional game.
Currently standing in Robinson's way for the starting job include Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan, two veteran free agents signed by the Redskins this offseason.
Robinson said he's looking forward to the competition, and, as OTAs enter their final week, is feeling good about his recovery and his grip on the defense under coordinator Jim Haslett.
"It's not quite second nature yet, but I'm still learning each and every day," Robinson said. "The more reps I get, the more comfortable I get in the scheme, and I'm becoming more comfortable with things that I learned my rookie year. It is the same defense I learned my rookie year, so I am learning new things and adding them to the things I already know."