FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Bijan Robinson took the handoff and started running toward the right side of the field behind his offensive line. It looked like he might get toward the edge -- throughout the first week of training camp, the Atlanta Falcons rookie had often beaten defenders to the turning point on the field -- but then, almost in slow motion, he stopped.
He pivoted. Then he turned up field, right into the hole created by his linemen.
This was Saturday and the pads had yet to come on -- the Falcons had their first padded practice Monday -- but every day so far, there has been a play which already showed Robinson to be one of the best players on the field.
“Bijan,” Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. “Pretty damn pleased with Bijan so far.”
There’s been a lot to like from the No. 8 pick in this year’s draft. When Atlanta drafted Robinson, Smith said the team wasn’t looking at him like a running back, but more as an impact player. That became clear through the first week, and even during spring practices.
Some of it has to do with Smith’s philosophy. A lot comes from Robinson’s ever-expanding skill set and his own belief in what he can accomplish. Amid a league-wide debate on the state of pay for the position, Robinson could end up viewed as more than the old-school running back people envision.
“Obviously, I do a lot of different things that maybe a lot of running backs are starting to do,” Robinson said. “For me, I’m a player that loves to give an opportunity to my offense, whether it’s me lining up out wide or me lining up in the slot or trying to it off to get an opportunity to maximize ourselves.”
So far, Robinson has been everywhere. He’s taken handoffs in the backfield and run routes as a receiver. In one-on-one drills between pass-catchers and defenders, his rep is often one of the most anticipated because of his ability to get off the line and cause issues for defensive players, including Monday when linebacker Kaden Elliss had little chance of covering him effectively because of the space Elliss allowed off the line of scrimmage and Robinson’s ability to stutter-step and cut.
Part of the route-running is new for Robinson, who has spent time on his own not just studying other backs, but also Las Vegas Raiders receiver Davante Adams in an attempt to diversify his own skills.
“Just to see how he gets off the line. See how he sets people up to create opportunity for himself,” Robinson said. “That’s what I’ve been [doing] when I get out here, bring it to practice the next day.”
This wasn’t something, he said, he did much of at Texas when he had to fit in classes and other responsibilities around his football work. Now with more time in the NFL -- and a training camp roommate in quarterback Desmond Ridder with whom he is trying to develop chemistry -- Robinson is adding to his game.
Robinson will be a clear part of the offense as a runner and receiver. As a rusher, he’s starting to see more of what happens with linebackers and the secondary as he’s making decisions where to go. As a pass-catcher, he’s determining what the best plan for him is, too.
And it’s all led to one thing: Teammates who believe in him. It’s been that way so far in practice. The next step for Robinson and his continued growth is simple: Take what he’s done to the Falcons defense and see if he can do it against other teams, too.
“We big on the run game and we love Bijan back there,” receiver Frank Darby said. “So as a receiver room, we got to focus on that, let’s get these holes open so Bijan got to do what he’s got to do.
“The way he’s running and the way he’s performing, man, listen. It’s gonna get scary.”