Next to quarterback, no other position on offense has flummoxed the Chicago Bears more than wide receiver.
“[Chicago] is where receivers go to die,” former Bear Muhsin Muhammad famously uttered 10 years ago.
The Bears tried to change the narrative in recent years with additions such as Brandon Marshall (2012-14) and Alshon Jeffery (2012-16), but a quick glance at Chicago’s media guide reveals that Johnny Morris, who retired in 1967, still holds the franchise record for receiving yards (5,059) and catches by a wide receiver (356).
Jeffery, who played just five seasons for the Bears, is third all time in receiving yards (4,549) and fourth in career receptions (304) among Chicago wide receivers.
Sensing their obvious weakness, the Bears pursued multiple free-agent wideouts last week, eventually locking up 24-year-old Allen Robinson with a three-year deal that included $25.2 million in guarantees.
Robinson wisely signed a shorter contract, which enables him to potentially test free agency again at only 27 years old. But the former Jacksonville Jaguars standout said last week that he envisions Chicago as his final NFL destination.
“I know the kind of player I want to be in this league when it’s all said and done,” Robinson told reporters at Halas Hall. “So I think for me, looking at Men’s Chicago Bears Allen Robinson NFL Pro Line Navy Team Color Jersey what Chicago provided from an overall standpoint was that I think they will allow me to do that. This is not something where I just want to come here — I know I signed for three years — but this is not just a three-year thing for me. I mean, in my eyes, I want to retire a Chicago Bear. So for me, there’s a lot riding on that.”
The Bears also have plenty riding on Robinson, who’s slated to be quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s primary target. Trubisky endured an uneven rookie season, partly because Chicago lacked adequate weapons at receiver.
Robinson, who missed almost all of last season with an ACL injury but caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Jags in his standout 2015 season, arrives in town with the reputation of being a quarterback-friendly wideout because of his route-running ability.
“I know from my standpoint, I’ll be able to make his [Trubisky’s] job easy,” Robinson said. “That’s my goal. Again, that’s what I came here for. I came here to make those plays, to make those catches, to make his job easy.”
Added Robinson: “I would date [my knowledge of route-running] back to college. College, I was fortunate to play for a coach that came from the NFL [Bill O’Brien] who had coached receivers in the NFL. And he was an offensive coordinator, so he was an offensive-minded guy who wanted to help me elevate my game to that. So, I mean, he kind of set for me the standards in what I would need to do to be successful in this league. And I know route-running is a big part of it. I know for me, I’m 24 years old right now, reaching the peak of my athleticism, but that’s not something that I want to just rely on the rest of my career. I also want to be athletic, but I want to be polished and a technician as well.”
Concealed beneath the cuffs of Allen Robinson’s navy pinstripe suit and white dress shirt were two bracelets. A green one on his right wrist and an orange one on his left. Souvenirs from his hospital stay last September when he had the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee surgically reconstructed.
He won’t remove them until he is cleared to play football again. That time is coming soon enough. He promises.
Until then, as the big wide receiver begins his Bears career after signing a three-year, $42 million contract, they will remind him every day of the work required to re-establish his dominance and be the offensive force the Bears need him to be.
“I understand it’s a question for the media — but not for me,” Robinson said Thursday at his Halas Hall introduction. “I know how I’m going to go about this thing, and I know the type of player I’m going to be.”
His confidence is noteworthy. Admirable, even. It’s just that this team’s fans, battered by losses and groggy from watching last year’s offense, aches for passing pyrotechnics. There’s an understandable anxiety about lengthening their list of receivers who missed most of last season with a major injury.
Fans here would welcome as much reassurance as possible. So how can Robinson be so sure he not only will be ready for training camp, but he also will regain his Pro Bowl form?
“I know myself,” he said.
Pain before gain
The play’s simplicity makes it that much more painful to digest. It was the Jaguars’ third snap of the season and, as it turned out, the first step on an inspired four-month march to the AFC championship game.
Third-and-2 from the Jaguars’ 33-yard line. Robinson, in man-to-man coverage against Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson to the left side of the formation, ran a 16-yard out route. Johnson had his hands on Robinson, but Robinson, as he has done repeatedly to NFL defensive backs, used his 6-foot-3, 211-found frame to power through the contact and separate.
He leaped for Blake Bortles’ high throw and — typical Robinson — pulled it in. As he landed on his right leg and regained his balance, Johnson pushed him out of bounds.
That’s when it happened.
The left-footed step didn’t even look all that awkward or unnatural. But Robinson instantly was in pain. He tried to limp back to the Jaguars sideline but fell in a heap, directing trainers to his left knee.
Robinson, in a recent TV interview with First Coast News in Jacksonville, recalled lying on the turf.
“It was a moment where I was like, ‘Gosh, why did this have to happen? Especially right now?’ ” he said.