Bears wideout Marcus Robinson, an unknown during his first two
years in the league, is now among the NFC leaders in receiving
yards, a feat that is all the more remarkable when you consider
that he was lucky he didn't lose his spot on the roster before
the season even began. After spending his rookie year on injured
reserve with a bum thumb and most of the 1998 season on the
bench, Robinson finally got a chance to show his stuff this
off-season under new coach Dick Jauron. Robinson responded by
mishandling almost every ball thrown his way. "Our first
minicamp, wow, did Marcus struggle," recalls Bears wide
receivers coach Mike Borich. "I mean, he really struggled."
Despite catching only 37 passes in four years at South Carolina,
where he was an All-America sprinter, Robinson was a
fourth-round draft pick of the Bears, who saw the 6'3",
215-pounder as a raw talent. He showed flashes of brilliance
while playing for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe in the spring of
'98, catching 39 passes for a league-leading 811 yards and five
touchdowns, and was named the league's offensive MVP. During
minicamps and training camp with the Bears this year Borich and
Robinson broke the art of receiving down to the basics, focusing
on aspects such as hand position, route running and tracking the
flight of the ball. Then Borich threw ball after ball to his
wideout, and whenever Robinson dropped one, he had to provide
Borich with a detailed analysis of what went wrong. As the
sessions progressed, Robinson climbed the Bears' depth chart.
"If you watched Marcus," says Bears quarterback Shane Matthews,
"you could see him getting better every time he stepped on the
In nine games this year Robinson has caught 40 passes for 656
yards and has been especially impressive since fellow Chicago
wideout Curtis Conway sprained his ankle in a 24-22 win over the
Vikings on Oct. 10. In the last five games Robinson has 30
catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns, including four for 66
yards against the Packers on Sunday. His 33-yard reception in
the third quarter helped set up the go-ahead touchdown in a
14-13 Bears victory. Says Robinson, who caught only four passes
in three games last season, "I've always been here just waiting
for a chance."
He has responded in a big-play way. Robinson has four of
Chicago's six longest plays from scrimmage this season,
including an 80-yard touchdown reception against the Eagles on
Oct. 17, and he ranks sixth in the NFC in average yards per
catch (16.4), ahead of the Vikings' Randy Moss and the Packers'
Antonio Freeman, among others. "The major difference is, with a
little game experience Marcus has started believing in himself,"
says Borich. "When that happens, the game slows down and the
ball gets a heckuva lot bigger. Marcus has learned that when
someone on this level says you have potential, it's not always a
compliment. It usually means you aren't as good as you should be."
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS O'MEARA/AP