Long road back: James Robinson slowly working his way back from Achilles tear

James Robinson is carted off the field during Sunday's game against the Jets. (George Varkanis, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s a long road back, but James Robinson is slowly getting there.

Jaguars coach Doug Pederson and his staff gave most of the team the week off, asking only rookies, select veterans and players returning from or working through injuries to attend mandatory minicamp this week.

One of those players was Robinson, the third-year running back who has been rehabbing from an Achilles tear last December.

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Robinson suffered the injury in a Week 14 loss to the New York Jets.

He returned to the field for minicamp, doing light training prior to next month’s training camp.

“It feels pretty good to be back running again,” Robinson said. “I started running again about a month ago, and it feels great to move my legs.”

Robinson wasn’t supposed to be more than a second or third running back on the depth chart last season. A preseason foot injury to first-round pick Travis Etienne, followed by an early-season injury to Carlos Hyde, meant that Robinson had the backfield all to himself. He put up a solid effort, running for 767 yards and eight touchdowns on 164 carries before the torn Achilles ended his season.

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It’s always difficult coming back from a long-term injury, especially an Achilles. In 2013, NFL.com said, “our research concludes that no running back has ever recaptured sustained pre-injury form after rupturing an Achilles tendon.”

There have been examples of high-level players returning from a ruptured Achilles tendon to perform at a high level, like Terrell Suggs or Demaryius Thomas.

For Robinson, he said it’s best not to dwell on it and keep a clear, level mind.

“Just have to focus and can’t get down about it, have to be strong-minded,” Robinson said. I know I can come back from it.”

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Around the NFL, Rams running back Cam Akers tore his Achilles in the preseason before the 2021 season and was expected to miss the entire year. But Akers made a speedy recovery just in time for the Rams’ Super Bowl run.

Robinson, however, said he’s in no rush to return to the field. He has to wait until his body is right to make the return.

“I’m letting my body recover. I’m not going to rush anything,” he said.

While guys like Robinson are recovering from injury to work themselves back into the lineup, other players are trying to make the lineup for the first time.

Undrafted free agent Lujuan Winningham is one of those players.

Winningham had 53 receptions for 840 yards and five touchdowns in nine games for Central Arkansas last season. He’ll likely have to beat out fellow undrafted free agent Kevin Austin and reserve/future signees Josh Hammond, Jeff Cotton and Tim Jones to make the Jaguars roster.

Walking into the locker room and going undrafted can weigh a lot on a player, but Winningham said his mindset is the same as everyone else.

“We’re all here to do the same thing, win games,” Winningham said. “I want to contribute and keep getting better every day.”

He credits the Jaguars wide receiver room as great mentors for his growth.

“Anyone in that room is great. They’ll tell you all the good and bad.” Winningham said. “It’s a stacked room, and I must take advantage of it.”

Winningham had much success at Central Arkansas due to his 6-3 height.

As the tallest receiver on the roster, he wants to be known as an all-around receiver.

“I want to be one of those guys you can put anywhere and make a play,” Winningham said. “Make them use me in any way.”

Winningham said he’ll take time off now that minicamp is concluded and will pick up the training after a couple of days off.

“Got to continue working. Run routes, stay in shape, and be ready to go for training camp,” Winningham said. “Once we get back, it will be hot, humid, and emotions will fly. I must stay locked in and focused on what I need to do.”