ASHBURN — Since he was shot last summer, Brian Robinson said he feels grateful every day for the outpouring of support he received in the aftermath of the incident. The phone calls. The messages. The cheers. The Washington Commanders running back came to realize the volume of people “in my corner,” from those close to him to random strangers.
So, perhaps it’s no surprise then, that before practices during this year’s training camp, the 23-year-old has taken time to greet and high-five fans who were in attendance. And on Saturday, when 10,000 were on hand, the running back stayed at least 45 minutes after the session concluded to sign autographs.
“I make sure I let everybody know every chance I get how much I appreciate them and how much I appreciate being here,” Robinson said.
Robinson, after all, also understands he’s lucky that the damage wasn’t worse. The 2022 third rounder was attacked and shot twice in an armed robbery attempt that required him to undergo surgery. But remarkably, despite the incident happening in late August, Robinson returned in early October and played a total of 12 games.
Still, in those contests, Robinson was dealing with the after-effects of the shooting — more than he let on, he said recently. The rusher admitted he “never” felt like himself as a rusher, despite finishing with a respectable 797 yards and two touchdowns on 205 carries. Robinson said he dealt with “all types of things” in his knee and hip, the parts of bodies where he suffered gunshot wounds.
These days, Robinson said he’s feeling back to normal.
“That’s night and day from then to now,” Robinson said. “So, people should expect a lot (of) great things to come when you compare all the things I did while I was limping around all year last year.”
Even upon his return last year, Robinson was asked to do a lot. The Commanders turned to Robinson as their starting running back, a role he was in a position to have before the shooting thanks to a strong training camp. And from Weeks 5 to 17, Robinson took the fifth-most carries in the NFL and rushed for the 13th-most amount of yards.
For this coming season, Robinson could look to see his role expand in different ways. New offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has put an emphasis on getting running backs out in space — and, in turn, Robinson has hauled in a variety of catches during practices. “I just don’t want to be one-dimensional,” Robinson said.
Coach Ron Rivera, too, signaled out Robinson’s “quick cut” ability. Though Robinson thrives as a powerful downhill runner, the running back can catch defenses off guard by quickly cutting back and shifting direction on a dime.
The Commanders started to see that as last year progressed, Rivera said. Notably, Robinson rushed for 105 yards in a Week 12 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
“We had a real good picture of what (he) can be,” Rivera said of Robinson. “What we’re seeing now is a little more mature version of last year’s guy that went through camp and he’s still learning. He’s still growing and they’ve still got a ways to go but there’s a lot of promise. There’s a lot of excitement right now.”
As a runner, Robinson said he feels his next step on the field is to show he can make explosive plays. Despite the volume of carries, Robinson’s longest run in 2022 went for just 24 yards. The gain was one of two that topped 20. (Cleveland’s Nick Chubb led the league with 13 rushing plays of at least 20 yards.)
Teammate Antonio Gibson has seen just how much Robinson has been motivated. After a recent practice, Gibson said Robinson came up to him and told him how they need to keep up the pace all year. The two are once again poised to be a vital tandem for Washington, with Robinson as the lead back and Gibson in the third-down role.
“He always got a positive attitude,” Gibson said.