One of Terry Robiskie’s favorite teaching tactics is asking questions with incorrect information as a way to separate the players who truly know their assignments from the yes men.
In a room full of Jaguars running backs in 2020, the longtime NFL assistant coach mentioned scanning the defense from the free safety to the cornerback instead of the correct read from free safety to strong safety. And he intentionally confused the strong-side and weak-side blocking responsibilities of backs and offensive linemen.
Undrafted rookie James Robinson was the quietest person in the room — until those trick questions.
“James was always the guy to correct me,” Robiskie told The Post. “I was surprised by everything he was able to do learning our pass-protection system because it was complicated. He made sure we were always on the same page. He knew where he was supposed to be, and he was able to help other guys when his guy didn’t rush.”
Robinson, 24, is the newest addition to the Jets, acquired Monday from the Jaguars for a conditional sixth-round draft choice as the immediate response to rookie running back Breece Hall’s season-ending torn ACL. In three years, Robinson went from setting the NFL record for most yards from scrimmage by an undrafted rookie (1,414) to not touching the ball last week against the Giants as the Jaguars shifted toward featuring 2021 first-round draft pick Travis Etienne in the backfield.
Former Jaguars quarterback Mike Glennon echoes Robiskie’s sentiment that Robinson is “smart enough to pick up things pretty quickly” and should be “ready to go right away.” Glennon recalled the locker room was as surprised as the rest of the NFL in September 2020 when the Jaguars cut Leonard Fournette and named Robinson as the starter. Without preseason games due to COVID-19, it was hard to gauge how his playmaking in practice would translate to live tackling.
“That’s a big move to cut a former top-five pick and go with an undrafted guy,” Glennon said Tuesday afternoon, “but that first game of the season you could tell, ‘How did this guy not get drafted?’ He really is a complete back. He turns 2-yard runs into 4-yard runs and 4-yard runs into 6- or 8-yard runs.”
The Jets undeniably will lose some home-run ability without Hall, who had five gains from scrimmage of at least 20 yards. Michael Carter, Ty Johnson and Zonovan Knight (signed Tuesday off the practice squad) could have to provide the big plays, while Robinson (81 carries for 340 yards and three touchdowns) runs with downhill force. Averaging just 173.2 passing yards during their four-game winning streak, the Jets can’t afford to miss a beat on the ground.
“When you want to pound people, take your time and wear them down, James is very capable of that,” Robiskie said. “He’s hard to bring down one-on-one. And he’s got good hands out of the backfield. He’ll get you a first down if you throw him a swing pass or a flare. Whatever they decide they want to do, if they want to rotate him in and out, he’s very much a team player. He gave all he had for me all year.”
With the NFL in his sights, Robinson wasn’t looking to put his body first at Illinois State. He carried 102 times for 629 yards and three touchdowns in a remarkable three-game span during the FCS playoffs as a senior.
“He almost got us back to the national championship game,” head coach Brock Spack said. “North Dakota State’s fans were hanging over the rails when he was walking off to give him a standing ovation because they know a great player when they see one. He’s used to having a program on his back.”
Robinson’s 4.64-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine likely is the main reason he didn’t get drafted, according to Spack and Robiskie. Illinois State’s Pro Day was canceled, so he couldn’t re-run.
“I recruited Mike Alstott to Purdue,” Spack said of the former All-Pro fullback, “and they are similar in that however fast they are, they get to that speed very quickly. Different backs, but James is very sudden. He could’ve played [weakside] linebacker for me in the Big Ten. He’s got that kind of explosiveness and toughness.”
Then-Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone was Robinson’s biggest believer in the scouting process, Robiskie said, and it paid off when the rookie became the lone bright spot in a 1-15 season. Marrone and his staff were fired, short-lived successor Urban Meyer drafted Etienne (who missed his entire rookie season) and Robinson surprisingly made it back from a torn Achilles suffered last Dec. 26 in time to force a timeshare with Etienne at the start of this season.
“I’m excited for him to get a fresh start,” Glennon said. “I don’t think he’s lost it. He looked really good when I saw him at the beginning of the year. [His rookie year] was incredible and he remained the same guy the whole time: He came to work quietly, was getting all these accolades and was one of the better running backs in the NFL — and you wouldn’t know it at all. I have a lot of respect for him. The Jets should be happy with who they got on and off the field.”
This story originally appeared on NYPost