Senior wide receiver Jamal Robinson, whose exit with a torn meniscus in his left knee 31/2 weeks ago coincided with a particular bit of offensive ineptitude from the Louisiana-Lafayette football team, was a full participant at Tuesday’s practice.
Robinson’s left knee was heavily wrapped, but that was the only noticeable way to detect that he underwent surgery on Sept. 12. He was moving around well, making cuts and planting on his now-healthy knee and showing some of the explosiveness that the Cajuns have lacked since he left in the middle of the second quarter in the Cajuns’ loss to Louisiana Tech.
Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth hinted during Monday’s news luncheon that Robinson would wear a noncontact uniform for Tuesday’s practice, but Robinson wore his usual white practice uniform Tuesday and went through contact drills with his teammates. Hudspeth doesn’t see any reason he won’t be available for Saturday’s contest.
“He’s going to play, barring something unforeseen between now and then,” Hudspeth said. “He’s a little rusty — not a lot, but a little rusty. He’s got to get back into playing shape.”
The Cajuns couldn’t be much happier about getting Robinson back on the field.
“I’m ready to see him make some more big plays,” said senior tight end Larry Pettis.
The Cajuns fell into a offensive funk without their big-play receiver on the outside. In the 10 full quarters of football the Cajuns played since his injury, they’ve only averaged 4.2 yards per passing attempt.
Use only starting quarterback Terrance Broadway’s numbers since Robinson went out, and that number dips to 3.9 yards per attempt, which would be the second-worst mark in the NCAA.
The Cajuns have played some stiff competition since Robinson went out, but it’s been clear that his absence has taken a huge toll on the offense’s production. Though he’s missed more than half of the Cajuns games this season, Robinson is only 3 yards shy of the team lead in reception yards.
“He’s a talented player and we’ve got to also make sure he gets some opportunities to help this team,” Hudspeth said. “When he gets the ball in his hands, he does good things with it.”
Robinson’s impact goes beyond the individual plays he makes on the field, though.
Just the threat of what Robinson is capable of doing could be enough to open things up for other aspects of the Cajuns offense.
“He’s a guy that commands a little bit of respect,” Hudspeth said. “He can take the top off the coverage and open up the underneath routes. He even helps you open up the run game. When people aren’t respecting the deep ball, they aren’t respecting the passing game, obviously they’re going to be a lot heavier against the run.”
For some, Robinson being back even goes beyond his impact on the field. It creates a more confident group of play-makers.
“It helps the confidence of other players to know that you’ve got another teammate that can make plays alongside you,” said junior slot receiver Al Riles. “Jamal may motivate other players to make plays. He’s definitely a huge impact on us.”
Robinson injured his knee after making a catch near the sideline against the Bulldogs. As he was headed out of bounds, a Louisiana Tech defender rolled over the back of his leg.
Since it was not a major ligament tear and is therefore more stable, Hudspeth was less concerned about Robinson being confident in testing out his knee with precision cuts that a wide receiver needs to make than he was about Robinson shying away from contact.
Hudspeth said he would not allow Robinson to return until he was 100 percent cleared, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some advice to Robinson for how to avoid injury once he gets back on the field.
“I told him the other night, ‘Just don’t get rolled up. Don’t get tackled,’ ” Hudspeth joked. “There you go. Pretty easy.”