Randy Jordan, the Washington Commanders’ running backs coach, distinctly remembers the first time he saw Brian Robinson Jr. on tape.
“Poor kid,” Jordan said of the defender. “I mean, he de-cleated him. And I said: ‘That’s my kind of guy. That’s my kind of party.’ ”
Jordan wanted to bring that party to Washington. When it came time to share his list of draft recommendations with Coach Ron Rivera, Robinson’s name was on it. Even with Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic already offering backfield stability, Washington grabbed Robinson in the third round of the 2022 draft, adding a physical, 6-foot-1, 228-pounder to the group.
Three won’t necessarily feel like a crowd in the Commanders’ running backs room. In a reflection of the running-back-by-committee approach that is growing in popularity across the NFL, Robinson has been repeatedly mentioned this offseason in tandem with Gibson and McKissic.
Robinson shares Gibson’s explosive style. But whereas Gibson still embodies the play of a converted wideout, Robinson is a true running back.
Offensive coordinator Scott Turner expressed no intention of using Robinson to replace Gibson. But “there’ll be times where we’ll play to the hot hand,” he said.
If Robinson has his way, that hot hand will be his. But he knows he has to be patient and make the most of his opportunities — lessons instilled at Alabama.
In college, he shared the roster with eventual first-round picks Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs, both of whom became productive rookie starters in the NFL. Robinson’s workload steadily increased each season, culminating in a fifth year in which he logged 1,343 rushing yards with an average of 5.0 per carry.
That hunger to prove himself shined through on the big stage when Robinson tallied 204 yards on the ground in a College Football Playoff beatdown of Cincinnati. That was enough for a spot in the Alabama record book as the most rushing yards in a bowl game in program history.
“If it was taking a small step every year to get where I needed to go by Year 4 or 5, I was good with that. I was coachable,” Robinson said. “I listened to my coaches. I trust that that plan for me will work out.”
He has a similar view on his situation with Washington. Robinson’s work at organized team activities and minicamp earned high praise from the coaching staff.
“He’s a perfectionist,” Jordan said. “So he may break off 20 yards, and I’m back there clapping, and I’m like, ‘Great job.’ He’s pissed because he didn’t go for 40.”
Rivera has complimented Robinson’s footwork and lateral speed, and the coaching staff appreciates the caliber of opponents Robinson faced in college. Rivera said he watched tape of Robinson playing Georgia and Auburn to gauge his performance against top talent.
Jordan lauded Robinson’s college coaches for preparing him well for the next level. In his last year with the Crimson Tide, Robinson worked with running backs coach Robert Gillespie. His previous position coach, Charles Huff, is now the head coach at Marshall.
With the Commanders, who open training camp next week, Robinson joins another position coach with a stellar reputation. Jordan has coached Adrian Peterson and Alfred Morris, and he often shows Peterson’s tape to Robinson.
“He loves AP, by the way,” Jordan said. “Anytime I put some AP tape on, he lights up like a Christmas tree.”
During minicamp, mentions of Robinson’s name elicited similar reactions from multiple teammates, including guard Trai Turner and wide receiver Dyami Brown. Robinson’s locker is a few spots away from Brown’s, which the wideout said allowed them to get acquainted quickly. Meanwhile, joining the Commanders meant the rookie running back was reunited with defensive tackle Daron Payne, one of five Alabama products on the roster.
“He’s like a little brother to me,” Payne said. “He always comes to me asking me about things, and I try to give him the best knowledge that I can. I’m excited to see him run the ball this year.”
The Alabama connections extend further: Another member of Robinson’s draft class is college teammate Phidarian Mathis, a defensive tackle. When asked for his scouting report on Robinson at the Senior Bowl, Mathis told reporters, “It’s like hitting an old-school Cadillac.”
Despite leaving Alabama, Robinson still wears a No. 4 chain around his neck, a nod to the digit he wore during his final two seasons in Tuscaloosa. On the Commanders, that number belongs to quarterback Taylor Heinicke. So Robinson doubled it — he now wears No. 8.
It’s a small change for a player whose career has been built on adjusting to his situation and taking the lessons as they come.
“It’s going to be tough sometimes,” Robinson said. “That’s just why I got to appreciate where I came from. My journey to get here kind of helped prepare me for that.”