Laurent Robinson sees the early part of his NFL career pretty simply.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said.
The whirlwind officially stopped Thursday, and when it did, the Jaguars and Robinson moved forward sharing the same hope – that what was at times a frustrating, difficult journey now turns into a smooth, productive one.
Robinson, who spent last season with the Dallas Cowboys – his fourth team in four NFL seasons – on Thursday morning capped a rapid career ascension by signing a long-term contract with the Jaguars that immediately made him a critical figure on an offense that ranked 32nd in the NFL last season.
Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Robinson will begin with Jacksonville as the “X” receiver, a position he played under Mularkey in Atlanta in 2008.
“He’s comfortable with that position,” said Mularkey, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator from 2008-2011. “We’re going to start him there where he’s more familiar and see where he can go from there based on what we do in the draft and maybe further in free agency.”
Speculation immediately was that Robinson will be the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver.
For his part, that designation means little.
“The No. 1, No. 2 – that doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I just want to go out there and learn this offense as fast as I can. I’m real familiar with it already. I just want to make plays and help the team win and get back to where they want to be.”
Said Mularkey, “We’re not going to number our receivers – who’s 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 – right now. We’re going to give them all a chance to compete, as we are at all positions. I’m going to give him a chance to see what he can do.”
Robinson called Wednesday’s visit to the Jaguars, his first as a free agent, “nerve-wracking.”
“There was so much excitement,” he said. “There was so much anxiety in trying to make the right decision. I just figured out that this was going be our new home. They welcomed me with open arms. I wanted to be here and they wanted me to be here.”
Not long ago, Robinson was more concerned with staying in the league than planning free agency visits.
Robinson, a third-round selection by the Falcons in the 2007 NFL Draft, played two seasons with Atlanta before being traded to the Rams, where he spent 2009 and 2010. He spent training camp this past season with San Diego but was released shortly before the season, signing with the Dallas Cowboys two weeks into the season following an injury to Cowboys receiver Miles Austin.
“It was tough to get released by San Diego,” he said. “I knew I had had a great last preseason game and would open up some eyes on other teams, but it was still frustrating at the time. I tried to keep a positive attitude, stay mentally tough and be patient.
He caught a career-high 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games for Dallas last season, and in four seasons has played 52 games with 24 starts. He has 143 career receptions for 1,858 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith called the move a “calculated risk.”
“We do feel he is an ascending football player,” Smith said. “We feel he’s at a different place maturity-wise.”
Smith also said while Robinson has been bothered by injuries through four seasons his injuries have been relatively minor.
“He is a legitimate fast guy and some of his issues in the NFL have been hamstrings,” Smith said. “A lot of it’s having some luck. Hopefully, he’ll have good fortune in the future.”
Robinson said he chose to visit Jacksonville first in part because of a familiarity with the coaching staff. He had worked with Jaguars receivers coach Jerry Sullivan for a month during the lockout last summer, and said he looks forward to working with Sullivan again.
He said he also was impressed with new owner Shad Khan, and the planned upgrades to the locker room and other team facilities.
“I’m excited about the organization and the direction it’s headed,” he said. “I feel I can be a big part of it moving forward.”
Mularkey said while Robinson showed flashes in Atlanta in 2008, he played at a higher level last season than he had early in his career. Mularkey said maturity, playing time and working with Sullivan during the lockout last summer all may have played a role in the improvement.
“He really helped out the Cowboys in his role, and really made some big plays for them,” he said. “A lot of that is maturity, playing time, getting some experience – there’s never a negative to that. His age and his understanding of the game – I think that helped him for sure.”
And while Robinson has spent his career as a reserve or No. 3 receiver, Robinson said he not only understands the challenge ahead, but looks forward to it.
“Every day is going to be a challenge, just to continue to grow and get better and learn more things from different coaching,” he said. “You just have to work hard every day and never take anything for granted. I have to continue to get better, and work hard, because it’s only going to get harder.”