JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Cam Robinson’s NFL debut should provide the ultimate challenge. It might even seem unfair.
The Jacksonville Jaguars rookie will make his first career start Sunday in Houston against arguably the league’s premier trio of pass-rushers. Robinson undoubtedly will have his hands full trying to block in four-time All-Pro J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.
But the former Alabama standout welcomes the season- and career-opening test.
“It’s such a big deal to everybody else, but it’s just football,” Robinson said Wednesday. “It doesn’t really matter to me who’s lined up across. At the end of the day, I’ve still got to go do my job. I’ve been hearing the past two weeks or whatever the same stuff every day, but that’s just for you guys to blow up and for me to just play football.”
The Jaguars have dropped six consecutive in the series and have been mostly overmatched against Watt. The three-time defensive player of the year has 14 ½ sacks and nine pass breakups in 10 games against Jacksonville, including three outings in which he notched three sacks.
Mercilus has been nearly as disruptive, recording 7 ½ sacks in nine games against the Jags.
“I don’t really have too much awe in me,” said Robinson, a second-round draft pick (No. 34 overall). “I’m just playing football, man. It’s the only thing I’ve got to go out here and do Sunday. Those guys are great players, obviously.
“But the plan is to go out there and get what we’re trying to get done.”
Jacksonville didn’t plan to put Robinson in this situation .
Decision-maker Tom Coughlin traded for veteran left tackle Brandon Albert in March. But Albert skipped most of the team’s offseason conditioning program in hopes of getting a new contract, showed up for training camp out of shape and then decided to retire after three grueling practices in sweltering heat and humidity.
Miscalculating on Albert opened the door for Robinson, who started all 43 games in three years with the Tide and was the Outland Trophy winner in 2016.
He was shaky early in the preseason, but got steadier the more he played.
“It’s exciting for him to get to go up against Clowney or Watt or Mercilus or whoever they throw over there at him,” quarterback Blake Bortles said. “As a rookie in the NFL, I don’t think you could ask for a better challenge. I know he’s excited, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
Added Robinson: “I think I’ve made some strides, got better at a lot of stuff.”
Even with Robinson’s improvements, Jacksonville’s line is the team’s biggest question mark heading into the opener — and not just because of the daunting matchup.
Brandon Linder hasn’t looked deserving of being the NFL’s highest-paid center. Right tackle Jermey Parnell has been mediocre at best. And the guards have been so inconsistent that coach Doug Marrone made them play in the preseason finale while every other starter watched from the sideline.
Now, just days before the season, the Jaguars remain unsettled at left guard.
“Still working through it. We’re still moving people through there,” Marrone said. “Houston’s not worried about who our left guard is. We’re trying to find out who the best left guard is for ourselves, who’s going to perform at the best level. I’m not trying to hide something.”
Robinson likely won’t be able to hide Sunday. He’ll surely get help from tight ends and running backs, but at some point he has to hold his own against Watt, Clowney and Mercilus for the Jaguars to have a chance.
“You’re going to have to do it,” Marrone said. “That’s why we drafted him. He has come in here and worked hard. He has a tough test. … Not a lot of teams have been very successful against this defense. That’s why they’re No. 1. They have outstanding players, and I haven’t seen a defense like this in a long time in this league that has such outstanding players.”