Is Robinson Finally Living Up To Potential?

Marcus Robinson has had a career that has tantalized and frustrated coaches looking for more consistency from the talented but oft-injured receiver. Find out what coaches and executives from the Bears, Ravens and Vikings all have to say about Robinson's potential and why each organization made the decisions they did with this eighth-year receiver.

Upon lengthy evaluation by the Minnesota Vikings front office, coaching staff, and scouting personnel this past offseason, adding a wide receiver with experience was deemed a critical need. Though the team had promising young receivers in the mold of Nate Burleson and Kelly Campbell on the roster, they weren't the veteran presence the team desired.

With free agency housing a limited number of players that fit within the criteria set forth by the Vikings' brain trust, the team put a plan together to sell a player on the potential of the team, its offense, and the opportunity to line up opposite standout wide receiver Randy Moss.

The Vikings believed the Moss factor would be a major selling point to a receiver looking to play for a winning team, while having the opportunity to face single-coverage in most instances.

Targeted at the top of the wish list was former Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens wideout Marcus Robinson. Only a few seasons removed from having a breakout campaign with the Bears in the 1999 season, Robinson suffered a back injury that forced him to miss the final three games of the 2000 season.

Recovered from the back injury, Robinson quickly fell to the wayside when he suffered a season-ending knee injury that slowed the one-time budding star for the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Limited by rehabilitation and some questions about the recovery of the knee, Robinson never quite managed to regain the potential many league personnel believed would elevate this physical receiver into stardom.

"Marcus really came out of nowhere in the 1999 season. Suddenly, the Bears were a passing team and had a big, physical receiver to get the ball to. The offensive system at that time was almost a perfect match for the quick, strong and sure-handed Robinson," a former Chicago Bears executive said. "One of the problems that came with the immediate success our offense had was some players became bigger than the team. Marcus never became bigger than the team, but he was one of the players that let instant notoriety go to his head.

"Robinson continued to work hard, at times he may have overworked himself to become better. His body eventually suffered. His injury issues became a distraction for the team, for the organization, as we became very dependant on what he meant to the offense at the time. Believe me, we, as well as the entire league, knew who Marcus Robinson was."

Just as quick as the ride to fame carried Robinson, the ride came to a crashing halt after the 2002 season.

"We were still in a transition period in Chicago and we had to make a decision whether Marcus could come back healthy and help this team. After watching the slow process of healing and continued concerns with his surgically repaired knee, we thought it was best to cut him loose," the former Bears executive continued. "It was a big ‘if' that he would ever become healthy enough to be a serious contributor again, but he had the talent to be one of the better receivers in the league. His great size, strength, and ability to go after a ball in the air made him truly a desired talent."

A second coming came in the way of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2003 season. Brought along slowly by a Baltimore organization that believed Robinson needed time to regain the strength in his knee as well as his confidence, Ravens head coach Brian Billick was willing to wait on the payoff from signing him to a free-agent contract.

"Marcus was not entirely healthy. He needed to regain the touch a receiver has, as well as getting into top physical condition. We were looking for talent and depth at the receiver spot. Signing Robinson was a chance we took with hopes he could again be the player we knew him to be," Billick said. "Robinson worked hard and we could see as the weeks past he was becoming more comfortable in his routes and started to trust his knee.

Working with quarterback Anthony Wright, Robinson would have an ‘in' when the Ravens went with Wright at quarterback following a knee injury to rookie starter Kyle Boller.

"If Robinson was ever going to be ready, it was then. He may not have been 100 percent, but he was as healthy as he had been in a long time. It didn't hurt that he had a good relationship with our quarterback [Wright]," Billick added. "They had chemistry together and both played well at times during the second-half of the [2003[ season."

Longing for that impact receiver opposite Moss, the Vikings courted Robinson early in the free-agent player signing period. Reaching terms of a contract was not an easy proposition between the Vikings and Robinson's agent, Kenneth Sarnoff. Despite progressive talks between the parties, Robinson was seeking an offer better than the first year of the Vikings' proposal, which called for just under $1 million in base salary in the first of a four-year proposal the Vikings had on the table.

"There was a time in the negotiations with Robinson that we felt a deal wouldn't be completed and we were moving on. Our philosophy has been, we want a player to play here, not only for the contractual reward, but because he sincerely wants to become a member of the Minnesota Vikings," a Vikings source said. "We felt Marcus wanted to play here, but weighed his value on the open-market a bit higher than we did or were willing to offer.

Our position was a receiver attempting to reclaim his place in the game would greatly benefit from the offensive scheme we utilize. And teaming up with the threat Randy Moss is, Robinson could be in the position to make plays for us due to the single coverage he would be sure to receive."

After some debate, Robinson accepted the Vikings' offer and was immediately thought to be the veteran presence, with big-play potential to help an already-potent Vikings offense.

But Robinson was slow to grasp the opportunity in quarterback sessions and into training camp. Hampered by hamstring issues, Robinson quickly found himself as the third or fourth receiver in the base offense. Though not openly criticizing Robinson, the coaching staff had its reservations that he would be the asset they had hoped.

With the coaching staff taking notice of second-year receiver Nate Burleson's rapid improvement and superior route-running and sure-handedness, the possibility was present that Robinson could be released late in training camp.

"There was a time in training camp where we weren't sure Robinson would be an upgrade or healthy enough for us to keep a spot open for him. He would show glimpses of his talent, but there were always nagging injury issues that kept a question in the back of your mind," the team source continued. "Late in camp, Robinson was able to fully practice, participate in the games and was productive. Furthermore, he really began to pick up the offense, his size and physical strength were looked upon as a potential red zone player for us.

"Look where we are today, what, six touchdowns and a solid contributing factor and threat in the passing game, Robinson is playing well. He has added the talent and depth we sought when signing him. To this point, we are pleased he was able to show us he still had the ability to be a productive player."

Robinson may again be a productive wide receiver. Lining up with an offense consisting of quarterback Daunte Culpepper, Moss and a new-found budding star in rookie running back Mewelde Moore, the marriage between Marcus Robinson and the Minnesota Vikings couldn't have come at a better time.

For Robinson, the Vikings' interest has become a godsend for the receiver that needed a legitimate shot to regain that spotlight that was almost lost.


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