The past two summers, Washington Redskins receiver Aldrick Robinson teased with a big play here or there, showing his speed and what the coaches hoped was his potential. Then the season came, Robinson largely went away and questions remained about his consistency.
Robinson is doing it again. This time, he says it’s different. This time, his coaches say it’s different.
The season will determine if they’re right. But for now, they point to subtle changes in his game that give them more reason to believe Robinson is capable of a better season.
“He’s caught the ball well, and that’s something he didn’t do in 2012,” said receivers coach Ike Hilliard, who coached Robinson two years ago before spending last season in Buffalo. “He’s always been a smart kid. Everyone knows his biggest asset is his speed. He’s playing more under control.”
“He’s becoming a more complete receiver,” offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. “He’s showing more route versatility.”
“I feel different,” Robinson said.
He had a decent finish to 2013, with 12 catches in the final four games -- not exactly Pro Bowl material, but he had caught just six passes in the first 12 games. But he still needed to be better running certain routes. Sometimes he was too quick to reach his destination, arriving before the quarterback was ready to throw. Or he’d be open because he ran to the wrong depth -- maybe 5 yards instead of 7. Again, if the quarterback isn’t ready, then even if he’s open it doesn’t matter.
It leads to distrust from the quarterbacks. It’s why they like newcomer Andre Roberts -- they know where he’ll be and when he’ll arrive.
The coaches have always liked Robinson’s speed. They consider him a smart player, one who knows all three receiver positions.
“Every detail is important to him now,” Hilliard said. “It’s around that time. It’s a progression for a young player. He’s turning the corner in a positive direction and he’s putting a lot of pressure on the guys in the room.”
Robinson pointed to one play in particular from the New England game, in which he caught three passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t the slant route for a touchdown or the drift route that got the Redskins out of trouble from deep in their own territory. On a third-and-11 from the Redskins’ 45-yard line, Robinson faced press coverage. But he ran a perfect route -- Colt McCoy threw it a yard or two before he cut, so when Robinson turned around, the ball was there for a 12-yard gain. If he had run it at the wrong depth, it would have been incomplete.
“Timing and depth,” Robinson said. “It’s all about the time of the route. I understand that now. The important part of timing is getting the right depth on a route.”
Last year coaches talked about Robinson being able to run more routes, and they’re saying the same thing this summer. They don’t want him to just be known as a deep receiver. But it helps, too, that he can be paired with other fast receivers so, in theory, defenses shouldn’t know which one will go long. It could open up areas underneath to give one of the speedy wideouts a chance to run after the catch.
“The safety can’t just look at me anymore and just lock in and say he’s going deep,” Robinson said. “If I’m on the field, there’s another fast guy and they’ll have to look at both of us. It changes the dynamic.”
And that leads to more confidence.
“I feel I can do this consistently now,” he said. “I can play good, week in and week out.”
The question is: Will he? Otherwise, he might not be around another summer to answer the same questions.