ATLANTA — Falcons rookie Bijan Robinson saw the hole created by the right side of his offensive line and cut upfield Friday night in a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He ran past a defender, evaded another one with some footwork and fell forward through the contact.
Robinson’s first run as an NFL back went for 12 yards, and it encapsulated so much of what he had already shown his team for weeks — elusiveness, speed and an ability to use his agility to cause problems for defenses.
“It was definitely a good feeling,” Robinson, the No. 8 pick in this year’s NFL draft, said after the game, which ended in a 13-13 tie. “It was just that little outside zone and just stretched it a little bit, got underneath the slips and then had to make the guy miss. That’s what we practice every day in camp.
“That’s what I try to do every day to help my team, to get those kind of explosive runs for us.”
It was all part of a short but effective outing for Robinson, who had four carries for 20 yards and one reception for six yards. He played on one drive, albeit a 15-play drive ending in an interception in the red zone, but it was an appearance that showed enough of what he was capable of.
It could have been an even bigger drive for him, too, but Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor threw a challenge flag right before the Falcons snapped the ball on what would have been a wide-open screen pass for Robinson from Desmond Ridder.
“I thought he operated fast,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “It certainly didn’t look too big for him.”
Smith had planned on playing Robinson all week but made it clear Atlanta wasn’t going to show everything his offense could do with the playmaker — not even close. Instead, Smith chose to do what most NFL teams do in the preseason, running their normal concepts and “vanilla” personnel groupings.
Smith said he thought Robinson carried the ball “pretty decent and thought he protected well.”
Robinson, 21, said he was “a little nervous” because it was his first NFL game, but after his first play, he said, everything felt more natural. After his first run, an amped-up fullback Keith Smith came up to him, another thing that helped Robinson relax.
Running back Tyler Allgeier, who was in a similar position to Robinson last year, albeit with less attention around him, told Robinson just to focus on every play and trust the coaching he has received. Allgeier and Robinson are expected to be the team’s main rushers along with Cordarrelle Patterson this season.
Allgeier said Robinson’s first run “didn’t really surprise” him.
“Because, shoot, we had so much confidence in him,” Allgeier said. “So it’s not really a surprise because we know how hard he works, and then him being able to produce on the field. So it was good.”
Robinson said nothing about his first NFL game surprised him, in part because he was able to get the feel of what it would be like in the present and future.
“I wanted to see how everything was going, see how the flow of the game went,” Robinson said. “See how we’ll move on the offense and see how everybody looked around me.”