JACKSONVILLE – James Robinson has carried a heavy load this season.
Like, a really, really heavy load.
And while the Jaguars ideally might give the rookie running back a little rest now and then, don't look for anything close to a running-back-by-committee approach any time soon.
The Jaguars' running game isn't broken, so offensive coordinator Jay Gruden sees little point in fixing it.
"You always like to sprinkle the ball around and make sure James is fresh, especially going into the fourth quarter of some of these close games," Gruden said Wednesday as the Jaguars (1-8) prepared to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.
"But for the most part, we're trying to establish the run and be physical and we know what James can do and what he brings to the table."
Robinson, an undrafted rookie free agent, has rushed for 689 yards and five touchdowns through nine games. He has more total yards from scrimmage through the first 10 weeks of a season – 917 – than any undrafted rookie in NFL history, and only Leonard Fournette (765, 2017) and Fred Taylor (739, 1998) have rushed for more yards as rookies in Jaguars history through nine games.
"As long as he's healthy, and as long as his stamina is in check, I think he needs to get the ball," Gruden said.
Robinson has been mentioned by multiple analysts as a possibility for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He leads all NFL rookies in rushing with 689 yards and total yards with 917.
"He's a real humble guy; he's real quiet," Jaguars rookie quarterback Jake Luton said Wednesday. "He's an awesome dude. I think he should definitely be in the discussion. To be in his position, to come out as an undrafted guy – and to step on the field Week 1 and to play like he has, to run the ball like he has and bring the physical element and the big-play ability that he has brought all year long …
"I think he should definitely be in the conversation. If I was on the committee to make that decision, he would get that vote for sure."
Wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. remains one the Jaguars' major injury questions. The rookie did not practice Wednesday because of the hamstring issue that caused him to miss this past Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers. Shenault, who Head Coach Doug Marrone said is "questionable" for Sunday, was one of three Jaguars players missing practice Wednesday with the others being tight ends James O'Shaughnessy (knee) and Tyler Eifert (scheduled day off). Center Brandon Linder, out last week with a back injury, worked on a limited basis – as did quarterback Gardner Minshew II (thumb); Marrone said Wednesday Linder is expected to play Sunday after saying Monday he doesn't expect Minshew to play Sunday. Eight other Jaguars players practiced limited Wednesday: linebacker Dakota Allen (ankle), running back Devine Ozigbo (hamstring), Robinson (shoulder), cornerback CJ Henderson (groin), cornerback Sidney Jones IV (Achilles), wide receiver Collin Johnson (hamstring), left tackle Cam Robinson (shoulder) and defensive end Josh Allen (hip).
Marrone on Wednesday lauded Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, saying the two-time Super Bowl champion is playing at an extremely high level. Roethlisberger, who missed 14 games last season with an elbow injury, through nine games this season has thrown for 2,267 yards and 22 touchdowns with four interceptions. If he maintains that pace and plays 16 games, he will set a career-high for touchdowns in a 16-game season and a career-low for interceptions in a 16-game season. "He's distributing the football and seeing the field well," Marrone said. "It's very difficult to defend. I would point out his accuracy. It has been lights out. If you make a mistake in coverage, he'll take advantage of you. He can see the field. He's playing at a really high level and they're playing with a lot of confidence." Marrone, asked how to try to defend Roethlisberger and a versatile receiving corps, said: "Try to keep everything in front of you and try to make sure there's no yards after the catch. That's a big thing."