Watching Demarcus Robinson in open practices hinted at what happened in his breakout game Saturday. Everything he does in practice is at a different speed with a more natural fluidity than any other receiver on the Florida roster. That’s not meant to discount the other receivers on the roster, but the sophomore has natural ability that’s tough to miss.
But it’s his catch radius that steals the show. The term, which Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper have used to describe Robinson, means simply that the ball doesn’t have to be thrown directly to his body for it to be caught. He has natural hands that can rip the ball out of the air, even if it’s not the best throw possible.
“He's got the ability to extend high, low, wide or whatever to make plays,” Roper said. “He's a guy that can truly make plays with his hands. He doesn't need his body to make plays. Every throw we're trying to make, we really try to put it right in the receiver’s throat as much as we possibly can, but that's not always going to happen. (Robinson has) got the ability to go get it when it's not."
Robinson credits the skill to working with his uncle, former NFL wide receiver Marcus Robinson. He went to South Carolina before his 11-year NFL career and serves as a mentor on the field for Robinson. In the summer, the two worked together on the field, trying to improve Robinson’s production.
The sophomore receiver credits that time for his improvement in learning the details of route running and catching the ball away from his body.
After Saturday’s breakout performance, Robinson got a call shortly after the game from his uncle.
“He told me I had a good game,” Demarcus Robinson said. “He said he watched every play and I did some things. Even when I caught the balls, he told me I was still like a little sluggish on some things. He's just a good guy all around, lets me know what I did good and what I did bad."
The season opener showcased what Florida has in Robinson. He’s a dominant receiver, especially after he catches the ball. He caught six passes for 123 yards and one touchdown, coming on a 70-yard bomb on the first pass of Treon Harris’ career.
Even on the shorter throws, Robinson caught a third down pass from Jeff Driskel short of the first-down marker. He made it look easy, faking to the middle of the field before sprinting to the sideline, getting to the corner and picking up the first down.
"He's a talented guy,” Roper said. “I think the whole group is really talented, but he's obviously a gifted, powerful, fast, long athlete.”
This is only the second season Robinson has been on campus in Gainesville, but it has been a long road for him to get in position to make the plays he did on Saturday. Last season was a struggle. Robinson was suspended twice, totaling three games, that kept him from making the breakout impact he seemed destined for.
Before the 2013 season, Robinson wasn’t guardable at open practices in the fall. The veteran defensive backs struggled to stay with him, and after the catch, he was even more dangerous.
When the season started and Robinson was expected to make an impact, he was instead suspended for two of the team’s rivalry games -- Florida State and Tennessee. His teammates and coaches have credited the sophomore for maturing this offseason.
“Just being more humble, more mature about things,” Robinson said about how he has grown up. “Being more smart about my decisions and the choices that I make.”
But he was forced to suffer through last season without an opportunity to be on the field. That made him want to get to that level even more, and he made it happen this offseason.
The first touchdown showed Florida fans what he could do.
“Man, very excited for my first touchdown in The Swamp,” Robinson said. “It had me excited, had the team excited. Hopefully plenty more to come.
"Just seeing the end zone, seeing nothing in front of me, knowing that I had clear space behind me and in front of me, just ready to get into the end zone to celebrate, I guess, with my teammates."
On his way to the end zone, Robinson took a few looks back at the players behind him, but there was no one close to where the receiver was. It was a small celebration for his first career touchdown.
"It's OK to have a little swag -- as long as you don't do too much swagging," Robinson said with a laugh.