A year after the Bears let Alshon Jeffery go in free agency, signing wide receiver Allen Robinson looks like a masterstroke by general manager Ryan Pace to make up for it.
“Allen Robinson was a nightmare at practice, and I say that in the best way possible,” said Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara, who played with Robinson on the Jaguars in 2016. “He’s very competitive. If he makes a play, he’s going to let you know it. He works extremely hard. He’s so raw and super-young. He’s definitely what this team needs. He’s a big-play guy.”
At his best, Robinson indeed looks like the perfect solution to the black hole the Bears had at wide receiver last season — a void that became even more painful when Jeffery came up big in the playoffs in helping the Eagles win the Super Bowl. In 2015, the 6-3, 211-pound Robinson had 80 receptions for 1,400 yards (sixth in the NFL), a 17.5 average per catch (tops among receivers with 50 or more catches) and 14 touchdowns (tied for the most in the league).
But there always seems to be a rub with the Bears, and recent years of disappointments have legitimized cynicism about almost any addition. Robinson not only is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in Week 1 last season, but his last healthy season in 2016 saw a decline in production — 73 receptions for 883 yards (12.1 average) and six touchdowns. So after the Jaguars — who were 17th in passing offense last season without Robinson — let him go, Robinson arrives in Chicago with a lot to prove.
“I understand it’s a question for the media, but not for me,” Robinson said when asked about the questions surrounding his knee injury. “I know how I’m going to go about this thing; I know the type of player I’m going to be. So, for me, there’s no questions. I know myself.”
For what it’s worth, Robinson said he’s “getting back into football movements” in his rehabilitation — sprinting, plyometrics, explosive jumps — and expects to be ready for training camp.
“Most definitely,” he said. “I’ll be fully cleared for camp.”
Pace wouldn’t go quite that far Thursday, but he was confident the injury would not be an issue after Robinson was physically examined by the team’s medical staff.
“The fact that he’s 24, he did it early in the season — Week 1 — so he’s already far along into his rehab,” Pace said. “And then knowing more about his work ethic, his professionalism, how he’s attacking it — we feel good about that. But until we get him with our trainers, our physical therapists, our strength coaches, I won’t give you an exact timeline. But we feel good about it.”
As for the downturn in his 2016 production, Robinson considered it almost a statistical aberration.
“It may not have been the results I wanted, but I know for a fact I was a better player,” he said. “When you put on the tape . . . I left some plays out there. I was five, six catches and two touchdowns away from probably 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns, so it wasn’t anything I lost sleep over. I knew where I had to improve. I know what direction I wanted to go.”
At the least, you have to love the big upside with Robinson — a ceiling that is well above any offensive player the Bears signed last year.
“He’s a big target who knows how to get open,” Pace said. “He’s a savvy route runner who can set guys up and a proven receiver. He’s a physical guy who can body and out-position guys. It’s a guy we targeted and are excited to get.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.