St. Mary's alum Allen Robinson returning to familiar haunt

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

On his right side, stretching almost from his chest to his stomach, Allen Robinson has a not-so-subtle reminder of one of his football highlights.

Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson had 14 touchdown receptions last year, which tied for league best.

It’s a tattoo depicting his acrobatic catch late in the fourth quarter for Penn State in the 2013 victory over Michigan in four overtimes.

For Robinson, a 6-foot-3 receiver the Jaguars selected in the second round in 2014, it’s a moment stuck in time.

He just hopes it’s not the high-water mark of his career.

Sunday, the Detroit native returns home for a matchup against the Lions at Ford Field, a stadium where he enjoyed success given he played in two state championship games at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.

This time, it’s different, though.

Robinson is coming off his best season with 80 catches for 1,400 yards and tied a league-best with 14 touchdown receptions. Still, he was motivated to work in the offseason to continue to improve and show last season wasn’t a fluke.

“(The goal) was to continue to challenge myself on some of the weaknesses that I felt I had, and always try to be a better route runner and try to be more versatile after the catch and create separation in my routes,” Robinson said. “Just not be a one-dimensional guy with deep routes but also intermediate stuff.”

That work entailed running routes diligently and tweaking the fine details, looking to get better with each repetition. Short routes. Intermediate routes. Having made his mark with longer routes — averaging 17.5 yards per catch last season — he wanted to become a bigger threat in all aspects.

So far, the numbers haven’t quite reached last year: 48 catches for 549 yards and five touchdowns in nine games. But he’s impressed Jaguars coach Gus Bradley with his work ethic and motivation.

“He’s a fierce competitor,” Bradley said. “I love the way he practices. The way he practices also shows up on the game field. We’re relatively young in our wide receiving corps and we don’t have that veteran presence, that veteran guy that can take those guys underneath their wing. He’s taken on that responsibility.”

The Jaguars (2-7) were the chic pic by many analysts to make a jump this season with their young talent, including quarterback Blake Bortles and receiver Allen Hurns, who also made their NFL debut in 2014.

That hasn’t materialized, but they comprise a formidable offensive corps that can break out if the defense isn’t sound. That has the Lions on alert.

“I think (Robinson’s) a very good route runner,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “When you see particularly, Bortles has hit him a couple times outside of the pocket, he moves well in and out of assigned routes. ...

“You like what you see from him; you just don’t like necessarily playing against him.”

That’s high praise, but it hasn’t amounted to wins. The Jaguars have lost four straight, and with seven losses, the odds of their first winning season since 2007 are fleeting.

“We haven’t played as well as we want to play, so we are what we are right now, but we definitely have the talent and skill to turn this thing around,” Robinson said. “We’re looking to get this thing started and that’s what it comes down to — just trying to win that week.”