MARK LONG,AP Sports Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Denard Robinson is going back to college with a little NFL experience.
The former Michigan star made his debut with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday, showing off his speed and versatility as the team opened a three-day rookie minicamp.
A fifth-round pick making the transition from quarterback to running back, Robinson took the majority of repetitions with the first-team offense and even upstaged first-rounder Luke Joeckel. With maize-and-blue clad fans cheering his every move in a pouring rain, Robinson broke several long runs and caught all but one pass thrown his way. He lined up in the backfield and at receiver during the two-hour practice.
The only negative was that the Jaguars won’t get to see more of him for a couple weeks. Robinson headed back to Ann Arbor following practice for his college graduation. He will miss the final two days of camp, returning in time for the start of organized team activities April 13.
“It’s real special to me because I’ll be the first in my family to graduate from a four-year school,” said Robinson, who grew up in Deerfield Beach, about 300 miles from Jacksonville. “That’s something that I want to show my nieces and nephews, that you can graduate, that you take this way out, that we can do it. This is special for me.”
So is the opportunity he’s getting with Jacksonville.
Looking for playmakers to improve one of the league’s worst offenses, the Jaguars selected Robinson with the 135th overall pick in last week’s draft. General manager Dave Caldwell fell in love with Robinson during his college days, saying he’s amazed “about how passionate he is about football, how loved he is at that school amongst his teammates and how he just goes about his business.”
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was equally excited about the addition.
“It’s kind of fun just to get a feel for what he can do,” Fisch said. “I know he’s certainly a weapon from looking at all his college film. Now, it’s a matter of what can he do best for us. We’re looking forward to being able to move around to a lot of other spots as well.”
Robinson started 37 games for the Wolverines, including 35 at quarterback. He finished with 6,250 yards passing and 49 touchdowns to go along with 4,495 yards rushing (an NCAA record for quarterbacks) and 42 more scores.
His career ended with some uncertainty, though. Robinson sustained nerve damage in his right elbow late in his senior season, missed two games and then returned to the lineup as a running back and receiver.
He struggled at his new positions at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine, showing little precision as a route runner and dropping about half the passes thrown his way. He also botched several punts.
“Had a bad performance, but I came back and knew what I had to work on so I continued to work on that and kept going with it,” he said.
The Jaguars, though, have little concern about Robinson’s hands even though he dropped a pass in the flat Friday.
“He’s thrown a lot more than he’s caught,” Fisch said. “It’s a repetition thing, and we need to work through that.”
When Robinson returns to practice in two weeks, he will be behind injured starter Maurice Jones-Drew and free-agent signee Justin Forsett on the depth chart. But with Jones-Drew still unable to practice following foot surgery, Robinson will get plenty of reps.
“You always want to learn,” he said. “You don’t want to be a soaked-up sponge. You’ve got to take everything in. That’s what I’m looking at: just taking everything in and trying to learn.”
He wore No. 29 during his NFL debut, but still would like to don No. 16 — his college number. For that to happen, though, the Jaguars would have to list him as a receiver. It could happen. After all, the team is just starting to find a role for one of its newest and fastest players.
“It was a good start for him, although we don’t talk much about the start,” coach Gus Bradley said. “We’re more concerned about how we finish, but it was good. One of our philosophies on offense is trying to get in playmakers’ hands. … That’s why you saw him play some multiple positions just to see what he can do, what he can take on and give him a little bit of a flavor.”
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