LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Chicago — When we last left Allen Robinson (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s), he was giving the Bears exactly what they paid for. In the biggest game of last season, Robinson put together a highlight reel that easily could serve as a trailer for 2019.

There he was in the third quarter, torching Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox on a slant-and-go and hauling in a 45-yard catch to catalyze a key field-goal drive.

There he was in the fourth quarter, with another crisp move past Maddox, this time turning an out-and-up into a go-ahead 22-yard touchdown catch.

And on the season’s final drive, with the Bears down by a point in the final minute, Robinson was part of arguably the Bears’ biggest play all evening, hauling in a beautiful back-shoulder dart from Mitch Trubisky.

It was the chunk play that pushed the Bears into range for a potential winning field goal.

Imagine the praise that would’ve come Robinson’s way had it not been for those two doinks on Cody Parkey’s kick that punctuated a heartbreaking 16-15 playoff loss.

The receiver’s final numbers: 10 catches, 143 yards.

Said Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey: “With that Philly game, it was ‘Wow! There he is. Can we keep playing?’ That’s where we’re at now. That’s exciting for him and exciting for us.”

That was the Detroit native’s final performance of his first season in Chicago. It was a reminder of why 10 months earlier the Bears had guaranteed him more than $25 million on a three-year contract that could be worth up to $42 million. This was a glimpse of what could be ahead as the Bears’ window to win a Super Bowl opens.

For Robinson, it was validation of all the work he had put in to work back from a torn ACL in his left knee, proof that his investment in learning Matt Nagy’s playbook and developing timing with Trubisky could fuel his ascent.

“As the whole season progressed, I just continued to improve,” Robinson said. “I felt better. Everything I was doing started to get sharper. For me, that’s what it was about.”

For what it’s worth, Robinson’s 26th birthday doesn’t arrive until next week. He’s in his prime. And if there’s any player on the roster who represents the DNA of this Bears team, it’s the sixth-year receiver.

Robinson is young and talented and still developing. He’s hungry and unselfish and ego-free. He sees an opportunity for 2019 to be special and is determined to seize it.

Last season’s closing argument — that 143-yard eruption in the playoff loss — should be the kind of production that becomes more consistent.

Robinson’s 2018 numbers were solid but far from spectacular. He ranked 57th in the NFL in catches (55) and 36th in receiving yards (754). He had four touchdown receptions. But with his health back at full strength and his comfort in the offense growing, there’s reason to believe a 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown season should be within reach.

At the time of Robinson’s signing, the Bears were betting that the true return on investment would come beyond 2018. They understood the receiver’s production in his first season after knee surgery might be modest.

But they loved the kid’s makeup.

“He’s a confident, strong son of a gun who loves to work and loves to play and loves to compete,” Furrey said. “… He’s always the same guy. He loves being coached. He loves to be reassured that what he’s doing is right.”

ESPN hires Del Rio

Jack Del Rio never shied away from giving his opinion as a player and a coach. He isn’t about to change his approach as an analyst.

ESPN announced the hiring Thursday of Del Rio, a former Jaguars and Raiders coach as an analyst. His first appearance will be Friday on “NFL Live.”

“I’m not going to be afraid of having an opinion and something to offer,” Del Rio said.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE