Editor’s note: This is the seventh story in a 10-part series looking at the storylines to watch as the Louisiana-Lafayette football team approaches its Wednesday report date for preseason practice.
LAFAYETTE — Jamal Robinson should be getting ready for his first NFL training camp right about now, but fate has him back in a Louisiana-Lafayette uniform one last time.
The senior wide receiver was granted an extra year of eligibility by the Sun Belt Conference in the form of a medical hardship waiver after he suited up in just four games last season.
Robinson suffered a torn meniscus in his knee against Louisiana Tech that required minor surgery, forcing him to miss two crucial nonconference games. Then, in his second game back, he injured his foot and spent the rest of the season on the sideline in a protective boot.
Now, Ragin’ Cajuns fans turn their eyes to Robinson as they gauge how closely he resembles the dynamic player who hauled in 15 catches for 260 yards and four touchdowns in what basically amounted to two and a half games last season.
The Cajuns have been cautious with Robinson so far. They held him out for most of the spring, allowing him only to compete in noncontact drills.
Coach Mark Hudspeth said in the spring that he knows what Robinson can do when he’s healthy, and he didn’t want to jeopardize that health by putting Robinson through the wringer in the spring. It’s likely that Hudspeth will do the same thing early in preseason camp to ease Robinson back into playing the game at full speed and full contact.
While Hudspeth sees no need to rush Robinson back to that level, it’s possible he could be ready for it right away.
Watch the tape of the play that ended Robinson’s season against Texas State: He leapt for a contested jump ball while being covered by David Mims, and it appeared the injury was caused by the landing rather than by contact with Mims.
It was a sort of freak injury that shouldn’t return to Robinson in the form of a mental hurdle. Robinson should still be able to run, cut and jump without fear of injuring himself in the same manner.
Hudspeth said that, mentally, Robinson is right where he needs to be heading into this season. You also can look at how he has responded from injury in the past. He needed just three calendar weeks (two missed games) to recover from his torn meniscus and surgery last season before returning to face Georgia State.
In that game, Robinson was spectacular, snaring eight passes for 119 yards and a pair of scores, one of which won the game in the fourth quarter.
Hudspeth said at Sun Belt Media Day that he expects Robinson will turn in a big season in 2015 if he can remain healthy.
It’s reasonable — perhaps unfair, but reasonable — to assume that Robinson will play at a similar level to where he was before his injury last season, but that won’t change the fact that people will be watching him closely to confirm that thought in their mind.
With a new starting quarterback in place this season, the Cajuns need the healthy Jamal Robinson of the 2014 and 2013 seasons catching passes this year.