Allen Robinson’s twisted ankle was the most harrowing injury of Bears training camp.
Don’t worry. Robinson is fine. He always is. He missed a little over a week and has already been back for a few days. The team seemed to be holding him out as a precaution more than anything else. Barring anything else, he’ll be full-go for the opener.
But his absence illuminated something alarming for the Bears: If Robinson misses time, they’re in big trouble.
As an aside, it’s inexcusable if they kick off the season without Robinson secured on a long-term contract. That needs to get done. Yesterday.
No position group is the same without its No. 1, but everything looked out of place with the Bears’ receivers during Robinson’s injury.
Going into a game with Robinson, followed by Anthony Miller and a collection of Darnell Mooney, Ted Ginn and Javon Wims behind him sounds alright. But slide everybody up a spot and it’s worrisome.
The Bears were warned about this last season, when they got all the way to Thanksgiving without anyone other than Robinson topping 80 yards receiving in a game.
Miller was in Year 2 of the coaching staff openly admitting it couldn’t trust him to run sharp and/or correct routes, and it took until Week 12 to click. He erupted with nine catches for 140 yards against the Lions, the high point of a five-game stretch in which he averaged 86.2 yards per game and had two touchdowns.
In one of those games he got sloppy and overran a route by 2 yards, leading to a Mitch Trubisky interception against the Rams. When you get tired of hearing about imprecise route-running, remember that the consequences are real.
Aside from his late-season spark, the other two-thirds of Miller’s season offered little evidence that he could validate general manager Ryan Pace’s move to trade up and draft him 51st overall in 2018.
Miller opened with four catches over the first four games, undercutting position coach Mike Furrey’s training camp pronouncement that he no longer had to hold his breath “hoping that he was gonna go to the right place.” After a modest bump in production, he went on to have four more games of one or no receptions.
While he still has room to grow, the idea of going into a game with Miller as the Bears’ No. 1 receiving option is unsettling.
So is the hypothetical of thrusting Mooney (a rookie), Ginn (35 years old) or Wims (22 career catches) into the No. 2 spot. It’s still unclear where those three and Riley Ridley fall in the pecking order behind Robinson and Miller, and coach Matt Nagy will probably mix and match them as long as he has Robinson out there.
And he usually does. Robinson played every game last season and was on the field for 94 percent of the offensive snaps — the highest of any skill player.
He was probably the only good thing about the offense and somehow put together a season of 98 catches, 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns. It was the eighth-highest yardage total in franchise history and the most by a Bears receiver since Alshon Jeffery in 2013.
Robinson did all that despite Bears quarterbacks — mainly Trubisky, but also Chase Daniel — combining to finish 25th in the NFL in passer rating. It’s not totally surprising given that Robinson pulled off a 1,400-yard season in Jacksonville with Blake Bortles as his quarterback in 2015. He produces no matter what, and that’s rare.
He accounted for 26 percent of the Bears’ catches and 23 percent of their total offense last season. That kind of contribution would be extremely difficult to replace in 2021, and that’s the lesson Bears management needs to take away from his brief hiatus.
While Robinson’s injury wasn’t serious, it gave the Bears a glimpse of life without him. If nothing else, it should’ve scared them into writing him a blank check. A team with very little certainty on offense shouldn’t let its most dependable playmaker venture into free agency.
Robinson is only 27, making this perfect timing for both sides to lock in a contract extension. For his part, Robinson has made it absolutely clear he wants to re-sign. But if the Bears don’t offer him what he’s worth, he can test the market in March.
The Bears might be comfortable taking that risk, but they saw what’s at stake when they spent a week without Robinson. It should be clearer than ever that they need to keep him and — unless Miller makes dramatic improvement this season — get him some help.