Dominique Robinson is in a much different position than he was 18 months ago.
Then, he was buried on Miami football’s depth chart. Now, in wake of an injury to senior wideout James Gardner, Robinson has an opportunity to step into Gardner’s place.
But, Robinson is literally in a different position than he was 18 months ago.
Then, he was a quarterback. Now, he’s a wide receiver.
Robinson graduated high school early and enrolled at Miami before 2017 spring practices. He played quarterback throughout high school, but saw the depth and experience the RedHawks had at the position.
Robinson spotted an opportunity and decided to make a change.
The opportunity started as a joke.
Because a few wide receivers were banged up or dealing with academic issues, Eric Koehler, MU’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, teased his quarterbacks that one of them was going to have to switch positions.
“He was playing,” Robinson said. “But I was like, ‘I’m about to switch over. I’m not about to sit here behind [several quarterbacks] and not get any reps.’”
Robinson was called into head coach Chuck Martin’s office. Martin asked Robinson if he was serious.
His response: “hell yeah.”
Not many people would be willing to throw away years of hard work – Miami originally noticed his performance as a signal-caller and recruited him because of it. But this position change wasn’t a demotion.
“It was an opportunity,” Robinson said. “So I just took it.”
His early practices as a wide receiver gave him nothing but encouragement. They were easier than he thought.
“Since I was new, our defensive backs didn’t know what kind of release I was going to give them,” Robinson said. “They were playing off me [during the first few practices], and I was just catching a lot of balls.”
Once summer camp came, the defenders adjusted to Robinson’s tendencies, making it harder for him to continue his early success.
“The hardest thing, for me, was the routes,” Robinson said. “I knew the routes. I knew what they were and the concepts because I played quarterback. So I knew all the routes. It was running them. It’s different because you have to stop, make cuts, and you don’t do that at quarterback.”
Knowing the routes was the only advantage of being a former quarterback. Robinson confesses he still over-thinks them and needs to perfect his timing.
Luckily, he’s blessed with rare physical tools. Listed at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, the sophomore resembles a defensive end. He’s bigger than most NFL wide receivers. To put his size into perspective, the average wide receiver at the 2018 NFL Combine stood 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 205 pounds.
Robinson’s frame alone doesn’t guarantee success. Martin thinks Robinson’s physical tools combined with his mental makeup could make the receiver a matchup nightmare.
“His biggest strength is his intent and his pride,” Martin said. “He doesn’t care that, maybe, some other kids have been playing wideout since they were five-years-old. He doesn’t want them to do anything better than him.”
According to Martin, Robinson’s a quick learner. Ironically, he’s spent the last 18 months watching Garder – the guy he’s now tasked with replacing.
“I’ve watched James [Gardner] since I got here,” Robinson said. “I watched him run his routes. I wanted everything of mine to be like his because he’s a good receiver.”
He pinpoints one specific thing he’s learned from Gardner: how to utilize his size to catch the ball.
Gardner also stands 6 feet 4 inches tall, but weighs 25 pounds less than his mini-me (or, in this case, bigger-me). He’s known for making crazy catches over defenders – something Robinson’s size allows him to mimic.
Robinson flashed loads of potential in spring ball earlier this year with acrobatic, Gardner-like grabs. Martin was surprised to look up after some plays and see Robinson was the receiver. He had assumed it was Gardner.
Even after all Robinson’s hard work, results haven’t come right away.
In his first game after Gardner’s injury, Robinson was held without a catch against Bowling Green. He’s never caught a pass in a real game. Yet, the opportunity remains.
“Who knows who can step up?” Martin said. “Somebody’s got to step up. Gardner left big shoes to fill.”
Is Robinson ready to take another opportunity and fill those shoes?
“Of course,” he said.