ASHBURN — After finishing a drill during Wednesday’s practice, Brian Robinson Jr. subtly pointed to the sky. The gesture was small, but it was the rookie running back’s way of giving thanks upon returning to the field after five weeks away.
But on Wednesday, after a remarkable recovery, the 23-year-old practiced for the first time since suffering gunshot wounds to the knee and glute that required surgery.
“Just a beautiful day for me,” Robinson said.
The Commanders’ medical staff gave Robinson full medical clearance earlier this week, and coach Ron Rivera said there’s a “very promising chance” the third-rounder will make his season and career debut Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
“I guess I’m the king of adversity,” Robinson said. “I’ve been dealt with so much adversity in my life. This is just another situation where I just got to be stronger than what I’m up against.
“I’ve had my tests, just having to be away from ball, be away from the organization for a little while just to kind of get myself together. But all of that time was very much needed.”
Robinson was slated to become the Commanders’ starting running back before the injury in part to a strong training camp. The 6-foot-2 back impressed with a physical rushing style, giving Washington a between-the-tackles type of player the offense lacked in past seasons. His return should boost an offense that has struggled through four games.
But Robinson’s return also appeared to be a jolt to the Commanders’ morale following a 1-3 start. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin called Robinson’s comeback “inspiring,” while running back Antonio Gibson called Robinson a “fighter.” Back Jonathan Williams said Robinson is a “high-energy guy” whose presence lifts a room.
“He’s half-Wolverine or something,” Williams said, referring to the superhero’s ability to quickly heal.
Robinson took eight to 10 snaps in Wednesday’s practice, Rivera said. In those limited reps, the coach watched closely to see if the running back was favoring one leg over the other — which would be a sign that he might not be ready for game action. But Rivera said he didn’t “notice anything different” from usual in that regard.
Instead, Rivera said he saw a player eager to get back to work. He laughed that Robinson tried to take a few extra reps with the scout team — before coaches had to rein the rookie in.
Now, the Commanders will monitor how Robinson reacts to the workload. If his body responds well, the rookie will likely suit up against the Titans. Rivera said he thought Robinson’s “mental frame” was strong, saying he could see “the joy” in Robinson running around.
Football, after all, was almost taken from him.
In late August, Robinson was confronted by two teenage boys after eating dinner in the District.
The running back managed to wrestle away a gun from one of his attackers but was shot by the other.
Robinson was unable to answer questions about the incident because of an ongoing investigation, according to a team spokesperson. No arrest has been made in connection to the case.
“Once the doctors told me I would be able to play ball again, then my mind automatically clicked into what I needed to do to get myself back on the football field,” Robinson said. “Just listening to the doctors and the trainers and everybody who’s been in my circle helping me, they’ve done everything they possibly could to get me to this point, and I’m just thankful for all of them.”
• Matthew Paras can be reached at email@example.com.
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