Dominique Robinson latest Bears shot at making defense Rodgers-proof

The Bears have spent a decade drafting edge rushers — long, lean and fast — to try to make their defense Aaron Rodgers-proof.

Shea McClellin–who stood 6-3, 250 pounds and was a first-round pick in 2012– didn’t stick, though he broke the Packers quarterback’s collarbone in a 2013 win at Lambeau Field.The 6-5, 240-pound Leonard Floyd, another first-round selection, dominated his rival. When the Bears cut him after four years, 7 1/2 of his 18 1/2 career sacks had come against the Packers.

Rookie Dominique Robinson shares their NBA shooting guard build — he’s 6-4, 249 pounds — but not their pedigree. He’s a fifth-round pick who enrolled at Miami (Ohio) as a quarterback, switched to wide receiver after a few days of his first training camp and then to defensive end starting with the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

The Bears might have struck gold — or at least another edge rusher to chase the elusive future Hall of Famer around the field. During the preseason, it felt like they were sitting on a secret.

“We thought that Dominique was a pretty good player,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “And we were just waiting for the actual real ballgame rather than preseason to see how he was going to function. And he did well.”

In Sunday’s season opener, he had 1 1/2 sacks and a quarterback hurry on only 15 pass-rush downs. He stuffed the run at the line of scrimmage twice on 13 rushing attempts, per Pro Football Focus, and finished with seven tackles.

“I never even think twice about him being a receiver,” defensive line coach Travis Smith said. “He’s a D-end to me. He’s a rush man to me.”

At first, though, he wanted to be a running back. His dad thought he ran like Eric Dickerson, but Robinson idolized LaDainian Tomlinson. Because he played on a youth team called the Cowboys, Emmitt Smith. His Instagram account still features Smith’s No. 22.

He was too tall for the position, though, and switched to quarterback in high school in Canton, Ohio, not far from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That landed him a scholarship with the RedHawks — and a quick switch to receiver when a few wideouts had to miss his first camp because of academic issues.

Nothing, though, could prepare Robinson for moving to edge rusher in 2020. He’d played safety as a kid, but this was different.

“It happens a lot quicker [at defensive line], which is fine,” he said. “You gotta think a little bit, but, mostly, you gotta go.”

Miami (Ohio) played only three games in 2020 because of the coronavirus, during which he worked on his pass-rush moves while going to school remotely from Canton. He had 4 1/2 sacks in 12 games at defensive end as a senior. The Bears saw a flexible player who, despite being raw, could dip his body coming around the edge.

The Bears have been impressed with his willingness to play the run and how intently he focuses on the small details of the position.

“It’s important to him,” Smith said. “He cares about it. It’s not just, ‘I’m going to go out there and let my athletic ability take over.'”

Coaches have been cautious not to hype Robinson up this week. There are 28 snaps worth of a scouting report on him now –“OK, who’s 91?” Smith imagined Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry saying — and a full year in front of them.

“These rookies will find out that as you get going here, it’s a long season,” head coach Matt Eberflus said. “It’s a lot longer than college.”

There’s a role for Robinson as a rusher, though– and, perhaps, as the latest Bears attempt to chase down Rodgers.

“It’s going to be fun,” Robinson said.

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