Commanders RB Brian Robinson building off trying rookie year

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. dealt with getting shot, having knee surgery and a rookie season that unfolded in a way he never anticipated. Now, he and the Commanders hope, the NFL must deal with the player he said he can be.

"People should expect a lot of great things to come compared to the things I did limping around all last year," he said. "I feel night and day from last year. I feel more like myself every day."

Robinson was shot twice in his leg while going out to dinner in Washington, D.C., in the early evening with a friend on Aug. 28. Police said it was an attempted carjacking/robbery. Robinson was shot in his right knee and hip, but he was able to wrestle the gun away from one of his assailants. Two teenagers were sentenced to six and four years -- until each turns 21 -- respectively, in youth services custody

Robinson, expected to be Washington's primary runner, had surgery and missed the first four games. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry on his first 108 rushes -- before a three-game stretch in which he averaged 5.7 yards per carry and rushed for a combined 290 yards. That's when Washington started to see the running back it drafted in the third round in 2022; the team even watched him run over a Falcons player during one carry. That stretch is when he started to show the vision and one-cut ability that impressed the Commanders when he played at Alabama.

Coach Ron Rivera said a thigh contusion slowed Robinson after that stretch. For the season, he rushed for 797 yards, averaging 3.9 per carry, with two touchdowns.

"We had a real good picture of what it can be," Rivera said. "What we now see is a more mature version of last year's guy who went through camp [before the shooting]. There's still a ways to go, but there's a lot of promise."

But running backs coach Randy Jordan said Robinson told him in the offseason: "You didn't see the real me."

"I said, 'Well, damn it, let's see the real you this year,'" Jordan said. "When you look at what he's done from what he went through as a player -- not only the physical part but the mental toughness it takes to come back... I'm excited to see what he can do with a full season."

Robinson is still expected to be Washington's primary back this season, with Antonio Gibson serving as the third-down back. Robinson also anticipates a bigger role in the pass game under new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Indeed, in practice, Robinson has made several nice catches, including a one-hander along the sideline Wednesday, while running a variety of routes.

"I don't want to be one-dimensional," Robinson said.

But he does want to remain thankful that the shooting didn't end up much worse for him.

"I'm very grateful," he said. "It's not a day that I'm not thankful and appreciative for everybody that was in my corner from the time everything happened. I make sure I let everybody know every chance I get how much I appreciate them and how much I appreciate being here."

Gibson said, "He's always got a positive attitude. He knows how to work; he comes in and he's ready."

Robinson said he wants to be more explosive as a runner. But Jordan said what they like most is how he can turn what appears to be a 2-yard gain into 6 or 7 yards. And although Robinson is grateful to be here, the Commanders remain glad they drafted him.

"He's everything what I thought he would be and probably more," Jordan said. "The biggest thing is you see his confidence in his leg when he's making cuts. His explosion, initial quickness is better than it's been."