Commanders RB Brian Robinson Jr. lays down big yards and wears a big hat


In the Washington Commanders locker room, coach Ron Rivera said he had a cue ball for the running back, who just recorded his first 100-yard game in the NFL. Teammates cheered and roared as Brian Robinson Jr. strode to the center of the circle wearing an oversized black baseball cap emblazoned with the team’s logo. Robinson pulled off his cap and raised his hand to ask his teammates for a moment.

It had been 91 days since Robinson was shot twice in northeast Washington.

“I’ve always wanted to say this in front of the team, but since everything happened in August, man, I promise you — everyone in this room has shown unconditional love and support, man,” he said said in a video The team posted on Twitter. “Just to help me really get to this point man I couldn’t be more grateful for everyone in this room man. You all were the people I turned to the most after going through what I’ve been through, man. Just for having this opportunity to do what I did today, I give credit to you all man. Thank you all.”

The dressing room erupted in applause for the rookie, who in an outstanding performance led the Commanders offense to a 19-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Robinson totaled 18 carries for 105 yards and added two catches for 20 yards and a touchdown, and his ability to succeed despite Atlanta’s heavy boxing and five-man fronts underscored the value of the role Washington needed of him when it moved him into the third round from Alabama last spring.

“His performance was outstanding,” Rivera said.

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Jonathan Williams, third-row running back going to Arkansas, said every running back from the SEC prides itself on having a tough, no-compromise style. But he admitted Robinson had a couple of such physical wears on Sunday that even he had to say, “Oh my God.”

One of them was early in the fourth quarter when Robinson ran through an arm tackle, itched a cornerback, rolled over a safety and tugged two would-be tacklers for a first down.

“I’m not sure when his birthday is, but on that day God gave him a lot of strength — and some size,” Williams said. “It’s genetics.”

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner stuck to the formula he often used with Robinson in the first half. He gave him the ball on first down and second and medium. Seemingly every time, Robinson was decisive, bursting into a heavy front and dragging four to six yards. He was a human snowplough, keeping the streets clear to keep the offensive on schedule.

Late in the first quarter, Atlanta appeared to be going for Robinson, so Turner switched. He got the offense into a classic run look—tight formations, two tight ends, wide receiver cam sims—but called a pass instead. Robinson leaked straight into the apartment. Taylor Heinicke hit him in the crotch.

Robinson rolled over cornerback Darren Hall, drove through linebacker Mykal Walker, and extended his arm for the first touchdown of his career.

“You against a defender,” said Robinson. “You have to win at least 80, 90 percent of the time. So I pulled the trigger and it worked out well.”

In the second half, Turner leaned even more closely on Robinson, perhaps sensing that the run-heavy approach was weighing on the Falcons’ front. Washington’s first possession dipped to a third and one, and Turner got back into tight formation, suggesting a run to the middle. Instead, Robinson took the ball in a stretch run to the left and used two excellent receiver blocks to get out for a 21-yard gain.

“I wish he was a little faster,” joked wide receiver Dyami Brown, one of the blockers. “I’ll take him to speed practice in the off-season so he can score [next time].”

On the next drive, Turner started with a Robinson run (five yards). Then another (six) and another (seven) and another (two). Overall, Turner called nine runs in 11 games — six for Robinson — and Heinicke threw a touchdown to John Bates for a lead the team never gave up. Robinson had gone from snow plow to pace car.

In the dressing room, teammates raved about the rookie after Robinson’s speech. Running backs Williams and Antonio Gibson said he’s nowhere near his ceiling. Everyone else applauded his resilience and character.

“Man, it was heartwarming,” Montez Sweat said of the speech. “After everything he’s been through, you just want him to succeed — and being a part of that just feels so much better.”

“I was so happy and proud of him with what he went through and just the kind of person he is,” said left stacker Charles Leno Jr. “He’s an amazing person, an amazing human being, and I love everything on him.”

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After a whirlwind of interviews, Robinson was back at his locker, wearing his large hat backwards. He said he’s trying to push his friend’s big hat business forward. Ron Dyer, whose daughter befriended Robinson in Alabama, bought the hat from NogginBoss, who appeared on the entrepreneurial TV show Shark Tank. Dyer and his son Kaleb made a custom Commanders design and gave it to Robinson, Kaleb said.

The silly moment seemed fitting for a team and player unlikely to emerge from a storm and thrive.

“If you want a big hat let me know,” Robinson said, grinning.

Nicki Jhabvala contributed to this report.

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