JACKSONVILLE – James Robinson has earned this.
Jay Gruden emphasized that when discussing the rookie running back Wednesday, with the Jaguars' offensive coordinator making two things clear entering the 2020 regular-season opener:
One, Robinson very much deserves to start the game.
Two, he believes Robinson will do well.
"I know he'll be ready," Gruden said during his weekly videoconference with the media as the Jaguars prepared to play the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
Robinson, who played collegiately at Illinois State, has been a major topic around the Jaguars this week. With reason. Not only did he sign as a collegiate free agent shortly after the 2020 NFL Draft, and not only is he making the jump from FCS to the NFL, his first NFL appearance of any kind will come in a starting role.
Robinson, who rushed for 4,444 yards and 44 touchdowns at Illinois State, moved into that role when the Jaguars released two-time 1,000-yard rusher Leonard Fournette last week. The team listed Robinson as the No. 1 running back on the unofficial depth chart this week, and Gruden answered quickly when asked Wednesday if he were confident Robinson would be the first running back on the first drive Sunday.
"Of course," Gruden said. "I feel good about him. I'm excited to watch him play. I know he's excited. He won't show it, though. I haven't seen him smile but twice the whole time since I've been here.
"He's a very focused guy."
Teammates agreed, with quarterback Gardner Minshew II calling Robinson a "quiet guy" and "a great guy" who has gained respect of older players with his knowledge of the offense and work ethic.
"He's proved that he's deserved it," Minshew said. "We keep giving him more and I think everybody on the team is very excited for him and the opportunity he has."
Those traits allowed Robinson to stand out during an unprecedented NFL training camp. With no preseason games, Gruden admitted Wednesday it's almost impossible for a rookie free agent to go from no repetitions early in camp to starting.
But Gruden said Robinson did that not only with a "no-nonsense approach," but by showing NFL blocking ability and professional receiving ability out of the backfield.
"He's picked up everything extremely well," Gruden said. "He's a great blocker and has great hands. James really has taken it to a level for a rookie free agent. He's made us all feel very comfortable about him with his ability to do the right thing and when he does have the ball, he makes something happen."
Also around the Jaguars Wednesday:
*Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. said his goal this season is simple – to handle the increased attention he knows will come from defenses after a 1,000-yard Pro Bowl season in his second season last season. "I feel like that's a sign of respect," Chark said. "So, I embrace it." Chark said he increasingly saw more shading, double teams and bracketing to defend him last season after starting the season strong. "I expect that again this year," Chark said. "But I tell guys like [rookie wide receiver] Laviska [Shenault Jr.], 'You know if they are doing that to me, that means it's your turn to be one-on-one. So, it's your turn to do your thing. Hopefully, Laviska can make it a little easier for me. But we have a lot of veterans in the offense, so I think this year the difference is if you do try to take me out of the game, we have some guys that can really make you pay for it. We just have to do it." …
*Running back Devine Ozigbo missed practice with a hamstring injury, with tight end Tyler Davis missing practice with a knee injury. Tight end Tyler Eifert missed practice with a scheduled day off. …