LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- In a month when NFL star wide receivers dominated the news cycle -- for mostly all the wrong reasons -- Chicago Bears wideout Allen Robinson quietly went about the business of notching another 100-yard receiving game in the season opener.
While Robinson is WR1 for the Bears, his persona stands in stark contrast to the flamboyant, and often selfish, attitudes of many lead wide receivers throughout the league.
There are no helmet or watch controversies. Robinson is, essentially, an anti-diva.
Robinson, the most accomplished and respected receiver inside Halas Hall, is by all accounts, well, pretty normal.
“He’s just a good guy,” Bears receiver Taylor Gabriel said. “I don’t know what else to say. He’s just a really good guy.”
“He’s the type of guy I could see modeling my career after,” Bears rookie wideout Riley Ridley added.
Bears coach Matt Nagy has another term for Robinson.
“He's a multiplier," Nagy said. "He makes his teammates around him better. So, as a coach, when you have that, that's the complete opposite of distraction. You want more of that.”
Robinson cares about locker room culture. He’s been working on it since he was a kid.
“When I was younger I played with a lot of the kids I grew up with in my neighborhood,” Robinson said. “We had a special kind of bond. But when I went to prep school, when I started high school, I was in a much different environment, people that I really didn’t know, people that I didn’t understand, people that didn’t understand me.
“… I saw that I had to alter some things to get the best that I wanted out the experience.”
Robinson would ride the bus and carpool more than an hour from his home in Detroit to St. Mary’s in Orchard Lake, Michigan. During that time, he realized he needed to establish a certain work ethic -- one that he could carry with him, regardless of circumstance.
“Each and every day,” Robinson said. “Whether it be weight-room stuff, on the field, practice, on game day, I just lead by example. I mean, that’s how I learned best. I just figured it’s best to exemplify that to others. Everything falls in place once you set a good example.”
That example and culture were even more helpful after high school as his teams struggled on the field. After Robinson’s first year at Penn State, the school was put under sanctions due to university officials concealing facts relating to Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of children from authorities. As others left the school, Robinson stayed, finishing with 2,419 receiving yards and 17 TDs during his career with the Nittany Lions. The Jacksonville Jaguars selected him in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft.
“At Penn State, being sanctioned, you are only really playing for individual success, pretty much,” Robinson said. “Once I went to Jacksonville, my first year we were like 3-13, my best year we went 5-11 and then 3-13 after that.
“Now it comes down to I simply want to win. I want to be part of a team or a part of a story where you win every year. I know how much fun that can be. Individual stuff, if the stock is up or down, you can always find ways to improve and find good things in a win.”
And in order to create a winning culture, players have to make sacrifices.
“Just through my experience, I’ve seen great ones,” Bears receivers coach and eight-year NFL veteran Mike Furrey said. “I’ve seen how they work. I’ve seen both sides of the guys and how they market themselves and how they carry themselves throughout their day and throughout their careers and what they do for themselves. Guys got to do what they need to do for their sake, but the coolest thing about our guys is Allen Robinson comes to work every day.”
Lost in the consternation over the season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers and the performance of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was Robinson's productive start. He caught seven passes for 102 yards.
Robinson had a monster year for the Jaguars in 2015 (80 catches, 1,400 yards, 15 touchdowns) and followed that up with respectable numbers (73 catches, 883 yards, six touchdowns) the next season, but a torn ACL cost Robinson virtually all of 2017.
Still, the Bears thought highly enough of Robinson to sign him a three-year deal that contained $25.2 million in guarantees. Robinson returned in time for the 2018 opener, but lingering injuries, plus the lack of a healthy offseason, curtailed his effectiveness. Robinson finished with 55 catches for 669 yards and four touchdowns, but led Chicago with 10 receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown in the playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The narrative changed this past offseason as Robinson participated in the entire voluntary offseason program and training camp. Additionally, Robinson accompanied the rest of the Bears wide receivers on a trip to Los Angeles for extra throwing sessions with Trubisky.
Nagy remarked over the summer that Robinson “has his legs back.” The wide receiver agreed with that assessment.
“It’s tough. You don’t really understand how much it takes coming back from an injury like the one I had the last year in Jacksonville,” Robinson said. “Across the league you see guys going through some different things, having setbacks ... until you actually do it, you don’t really understand how difficult that can be. You’re trying to do everything on the fly as opposed to getting back to 100 percent. You didn’t really get that chance to train for the season. You have to jump right back into it.
“Understanding what happened last year, I tried to do everything to prepare for this season. And I can say, I feel a lot better this year.”