The next step is getting him even more work – especially in crucial situations.
That was the case in Sunday’s 37-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field. Robinson ran for a career-high 149 yards on 18 carries – including a 58-yard run that set up the Jacksonville’s first touchdown – but it was his lack of work at a critical part of the game that stood out.
A defensive holding penalty gave the Jaguars a first-and-goal from the Tennessee 5-yard line with 10:55 to play in the fourth quarter and the Jaguars trailing 31-19. A touchdown would have made it a one-score game and put the Jaguars in position to try to snap their 19-game losing streak.
But Robinson, who at that point was averaging 8.4 yards per carry, wasn’t even on the field. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called passes on first, second and third downs, and rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s scramble on third down (originally ruled a touchdown before being reversed) put the ball at the 1-yard line.
The fourth-down run went to Carlos Hyde, who was stuffed for a 3-yard loss.
There seemed to be some confusion after the game why Robinson – the team’s best offensive player – wasn’t on the field at the most critical part of the game. Coach Urban Meyer said he met with Bevell after the game but still wasn’t sure what happened.
“I don't micromanage who's in the game,” Meyer said. “James is running really hard, but so is Carlos. I've got to go find out if something was dinged up with James on that situation. And the quarterback sneak, [Lawrence] is not quite comfortable with that yet. We've been practicing that. I know that might sound silly, but when you've never done it, it's something that we need to continue to make that, so you can make that call in that critical situation.”
To Robinson’s credit, he didn’t complain.
“I just go with the call,” he said. “Whatever is called, I just go with it, and we have to be able to execute. I trust my teammates to get the job done, and it is what it is.”
There’s really no excuse for Robinson not to be on the field for at least one of those four snaps – unless, of course, he was hurt. That doesn’t appear to be the case, though. It appears the Jaguars just decided not using their best player when it mattered the most was the right call.
Even if you take away Robinson’s 58-yard run, he still averaged 5.4 yards per carry. It’s tougher to run at the goal line, but a carry on first or second down from the 5 would make much more sense than Robinson standing on the sideline.
“The line just did a really good job today opening up holes,” said Robinson, whose previous career high was 128 rushing yards. “As you guys could see, every time I got the ball, it was kind of a big play. Guys up front did a really good job today.”
The Jaguars didn’t use Robinson much in the first two games – just 16 carries for 67 yards combined – but his workload has increased since then: 15 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals, 18 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals and then 18 carries against the Titans.
He can handle more, however. He had four games of 22 or more carries as a rookie last season. He is the Jaguars’ best player, and he needs to touch the ball as much as possible -- and he needs to be the first option in critical situations, especially near the goal line.
At the very least, he needs to be on the field -- especially when it matters most.