The curious season of Jacksonville Jaguars RB James Robinson and his unpredictable usage

Should Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer shut down James Robinson until the running back can get healthy? Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer said running back James Robinson wasn’t benched after he fumbled in the second quarter of the Jaguars’ 37-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

Even though Robinson missed 20 plays before he got back on the field, Meyer said Robinson wasn’t being punished and his absence was related to his heel and knee injuries.

But it turned out Robinson was close to not even being on the field at all in the first place. Robinson has practiced only on a limited basis since missing Week 9 and started to look more like himself the past two games, but he had a small setback this past week.

The best way for him to heal as quickly as possible is to completely rest his heel and knee, and Meyer said Sunday the staff considered sitting Robinson against the Rams but didn’t because “everybody felt that he was the best option right now, even not 100%.”

But if that’s really the case, then why was he on the bench for three series after his fumble?

It wasn’t a careless fumble -- Aaron Donald ripped it out of his hands as he was being tackled -- but it’s understandable if offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and running backs coach Bernie Parmalee wanted to punish Robinson for a drive.

But not three drives. Not 20 plays. Not when he’s the best offensive player on the roster.

If the Jaguars are going to play Robinson because he’s their best option -- and whether he should be playing is definitely debatable -- then put him on the field when the game is still in doubt and use him. You know when he shouldn’t be on the field if you’re worried about him being banged up? When the Jaguars have the ball with less than two minutes to play and are trailing by 30 points.

Robinson had three of his eight carries after the two-minute warning. The Jaguars (2-10) were down 37-7, and instead of using Carlos Hyde or Dare Ogunbowale to run out the clock, they had Robinson taking a needless pounding.

Meyer said there is a running back rotation, and Parmalee must have wanted to get Robinson a few more carries at that point. However, when told that didn’t seem wise, Meyer’s response was: “I’d agree.”

That’s just the latest example of the curious way this new Jaguars regime has treated Robinson, who, as an undrafted rookie, ran for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020. Meyer and GM Trent Baalke (who was with the team in 2020) were so impressed they went out and signed Hyde in free agency and drafted Travis Etienne Jr. 25th overall. Granted, Meyer said the plan before an injury ended Etienne's season was to use the quick and shifty athlete in multiple spots, but that also included taking snaps as a running back.

Meyer told Robinson to get faster in the offseason, and when Robinson showed up for training camp, he certainly looked a little more explosive. But when the first unofficial depth chart was released in the preseason, it listed Robinson or Hyde as the first-string running back.

Hyde played for Meyer at Ohio State, so there’s a relationship there, and Meyer has said numerous times this season that Hyde is a pretty good player too. Hyde does have a 1,000-yard season and two others when he topped 900 yards rushing, but he turned 31 in September, and he’s not Robinson’s equal (Robinson entered Sunday’s game averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season; Hyde was 3.2).

Bevell was reluctant to use Robinson early in the season, giving him just five carries in the opener and 11 the following week. The workload increased until Robinson’s injury, which is understandable.

Then came the past two games. Robinson fumbled against Atlanta on Nov. 28 and then sat for 16 consecutive plays. After the game, Meyer said he didn’t know why Robinson wasn’t on the field and he’d need to talk to Bevell and Parmalee to find out why.

Meyer’s answer the next day, after talking with both: “[It’s because of the] rotation and then he’s still not 100%.”

He answered the same way after Sunday’s loss, saying that Robinson would have been back on the field after his fumble had he been completely healthy. Hyde, by the way, fumbled late in the third quarter and sat out several plays on the Jaguars’ next drive, but he still got a carry later in the drive.

Beyond all this, though, the important thing for the Jaguars to consider now is whether they should sit Robinson for a week or two or even the rest of the season. Robinson clearly isn’t at the same level he was before he suffered the hyperextended knee and heel bruise in the Jaguars’ loss to Seattle on Oct. 31. He missed the following game after the injury – the improbable 9-6 victory over the Buffalo Bills – but he didn’t have the same burst through the hole when he returned the next week.

Robinson looked better the two games after that, but the setback he had during practice last week was concerning enough to get the staff at least thinking about shutting him down. That might be the best thing for him to avoid making the injuries worse.

At least everyone would know why he’s not on the field.