Terps Backup QB Robinson Learns on the Fly

This time last year, Jamarr Robinson was a working man. There was no school to attend, there was no football to play. He went to work at Hewitt Associates processing I-9 forms, which determine a worker's eligibility.

All the while on the day-to-day working man's grind in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., he was waiting for his eligibility to begin at Maryland . Robinson was grey-shirted, a process by which his scholarship didn't kick in until the spring semester.

"It was hard, real hard," Robinson said of the waiting.

There's a different challenge for Robinson now, and it isn't much easier. By way of Jeremy Ricker's transfer in the spring and Bobby Sheahin's transfer at the beginning of fall camp, Robinson went from the last reserve to the No.3 quarterback to start the season. With Jordan Steffy hurt, Robinson is No. 2 behind Chris Turner. All it takes is one wrong hit and Robinson is The Guy.

"Last spring I didn't think I'd even be close," he said. "But it's here. There's nothing I can do about it."

These days, Robinson is inhaling Maryland's several-hundred-something page playbook instead of looking over I-9 forms. The last six weeks, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen and quarterbacks coach John Donovan have given Robinson a crash course in the Terrapins' tediously detail-oriented offense.

"It's one of those deals where [if] you know you have a chance to play, you better know what the heck you're doing because you're going to be the one there," Donovan said.

The coaches have put Robinson on the spot. It's not the first time, either.

The Recruiting Process

It's Feb. 7, 2007--National Signing Day--and Robinson is finally at Maryland. He attends the signing day celebration where Friedgen reviews the class and shows film of each incoming recruit.

As has been the custom, Friedgen asks the spring enrollees to join him on stage. Robinson didn't know about this. He's a mere two weeks into school and he's already under pressure. And to top it off, he's on stage right after safety Antwine Perez, a once highly-touted recruit who transferred to Maryland from Southern Cal.

"Tell them a little about yourself," Friedgen said, referring to the hundreds of fans packed into the Alumni Center ball room.

"I'm Jamarr Robinson from Charlotte, N.C., and I went to Myers Park High School, and…" Robinson cut off, not knowing what else to say.

"Why did you pick the Terps?"

"I chose Maryland because I've heard so much about Maryland as far as academics and it's a great place to graduate from," he answered.

"With athletics too."
That wasn't so bad. "Excited," he remembers feeling. It was a long time coming, too.

Robinson was recruited by mostly smaller schools out of high school—East Carolina, Eastern Kentucky, James Madison. Kentucky, Illinois and N.C. State recruited him a little bit. He wanted to play quarterback in college, and for most big-name schools, he wasn't the ideal size—only 6-foot tall, 175 pounds.

But he kind of reminded Friedgen of somebody he coached at Georgia Tech--Joe Hamilton, a 1999 Heisman trophy candidate. A lofty comparison indeed. Like Hamilton, Robinson was an undersized dual threat quarterback—he threw for 1,618 yards and ran for 865 yards his senior year at Myers Park. He had been to Maryland's summer camps and his recruiter, special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski, turned up the heat on Robinson during his junior season.

"Coach Ray told me from the get go, ‘You're a good athlete, you can throw, we'll give you a chance at QB,'" Robinson said. "That's all I needed to hear."

Friedgen and Rychleski had told Robinson it was possible he would grey shirt all along. Maryland had received a commitment from Ricker, but it was uncertain if he would qualify. If he didn't, Robinson would be able to join the rest of the class for the 2006 fall semester.

The possibility of grey-shirting didn't deter Robinson.

"To me it really didn't matter because this was my biggest offer and under my skin I was always going to come here," he said.

The news that Ricker had qualified came shortly after Robinson committed. He would have to take a grey-shirt.

"I didn't really understand what the grey shirt was going to do to me until after everybody at home and everybody else reported to school in August and I was home," Robinson said.

Cram session

Robinson made the walk from the Gossett Football Team House to the practice fields Wednesday with Donovan by his side, giving him final instructions before practice. Every minute is precious—Robison needs to learn so much to be able to function if his number is called in a game.

"As far as our game plan goes, he's got to be able to operate, he's got to be able to run it," Donovan said. "He might not be able to do a couple things that the older guys might do, but he's got to know it."

It's a complex system that young quarterbacks under Friedgen have trouble completely grasping. Those other quarterbacks had time, though. It was doubtful they would need to worry about seeing the field. Sometimes they didn't even see the quarterback meeting room on a regular basis.

All that's different for Robinson. He takes reps with the first team, he sits in on every meeting and he has to pass tests on the offense. He has to be ready today.

Turner remembers his understanding of the offense was "literally nothing" when he was a freshman.

"Most freshmen, they play on scout team," Turner said. "Until the next spring you don't have any exposure to the offense. [Jamarr]'s real young, it's pretty overwhelming. I can't imagine how I would feel if I was in his position my freshman year."

Robinson admits he has struggled in learning some aspects of the offense. Donovan said he is comfortable with the running game, but there are still certain pass plays that he hasn't quite mastered. If he has to go into a game, one advantage the coaches can take advantage of is his athletic ability. Similar to Josh Portis, Robinson can run the option effectively and is an elusive scrambler.

Still, though, Friedgen worries about putting him out there.

"We've been trying to push him," Friedgen said. "He's struggling right now. He's getting tremendous experience and he is improving, but that would be a tough situation for us."

It's also a situation he can't avoid, and Robinson would be called upon should Turner get hurt this week. If Robinson could just operate within the offense at a basic level, it would be the ideal situation. It's something he feels he's ready for.

"Just being around and watching, I've learned a lot," he said. "I may still be a little confused on some stuff, but for the most part I can manage. I have a good idea what's going on."

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