Sometimes, being the “X” receiver in the Chiefs’ offense is the equivalent of being a third wheel on date night.
There’s no doubt that on game days, the Chiefs’ offense flows through running back Kareem Hunt, tight end Travis Kelce and “Z” receiver Tyreek Hill, the dynamic three-pronged nucleus of one of the better offenses in football.
That leaves precious few opportunities for Demarcus Robinson, the man who has stepped into a starting role at the “X” following the season-ending injury suffered by starter Chris Conley against Houston on Oct. 8.
But Chiefs coaches say Robinson, a fourth-round pick in 2016, is making the best of the opportunities he gets.
“We’re happy with him,” offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “I’ve said this all along, the biggest thing with Demarcus is going to be patience, because it takes a lot to learn this offense. And when you’re at a position that he is, with the different splits and alignments that we have, it can get crazy.
“So far, if you ask me, I think he’s done a really good job. And I think if you asked him, he’d tell you each and every day that you learn something new. But his arrow’s going up.”
In four games as a starter, Robinson has hauled in just nine passes on 16 targets for 108 yards. He has yet to record his first professional receiving touchdown.
Yet the 6-foot-1, 203-pounder is contributing in other ways. He’s taken pride in his blocking for instance, as he threw two –– two –– key blocks on friend Hill’s insane 56-yard “Hill Mary” score before halftime of the Chiefs’ 28-17 loss to Dallas on Nov. 5.
“It’s kinda like, expected, you know?” Robinson said of his effort on the play.
Also expected is that his involvement in the offense will grow as Robinson become more comfortable.
“He is extremely talented and can do a lot –– he has so many tools,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “I think he has done such a good job of preparing. There is so much that gets thrown on your plate just like that, and I think being able to handle all that and still play fast, he has done that.”
Making on-the-fly sight adjustments –– which calls for receivers to change their routes mid-play, depending on the defensive coverage –– is another area in which Robinson has made substantial progress over the last two years.
“We communicate real well, and I think he sees things really well,” Smith said. “As the weeks go on, you get more and more opportunity there to kind of work on things.”
Nagy co-signed on that notion, noting that miscommunications between Smith and Robinson have grown increasingly rare.
“There’s not a lot of that,” Nagy said. “Because if there was, I don’t think you could keep moving forward. So he’s done a good job with that.”
Robinson did not run a very complicated route tree at Florida, but the Chiefs are also excited about his route-running skill — so much so that Nagy said he sees Robinson regularly beat his man in single coverage, even though the ball rarely comes his way.
“You see there’s times he’s open,” Nagy said. “He’s doing a good job, and shoot, we’ve got however many games left. Every game, every practice, he just keeps improving each and every day, and that’s what we need.”
Smith agreed, hinting that he expects big things from Robinson down the road.
“The ‘X’ receiver in this offense is unique,” Smith said. “So much of this is built to the ‘Z’ ... There will be some games where you don’t get a ton of looks and then, bam, you have to get ready because whatever the defense does may dictate that the ball goes that direction. I think the last few years, that has been the nature of that position. A lot of balls come in spurts.”
That was certainly the case with Conley, whose injury was devastating in the sense that it robbed the offense of a reliable chain-mover who could line up at any receiver position, be it the “X,” “Z” or “Zebra” (slot), thus providing additional offensive versatility.
And while Robinson has not yet reached that level of mental mastery –– he has primarily lined up at the “X” –– Nagy said the Chiefs will have opportunities to get Robinson more involved, even though he’s the offense’s No. 4 option.
“I think he’s a guy that, if you get started early, he builds off that momentum and he can have some big games,” Nagy said.
Robinson, for his part, is just excited to be a starter after spending most of his rookie year on special teams. Even though his number has not been dialed up much, he’s a confident guy who is excited to prove what he can do.
“Just playing the game, having fun out there –– it’s all about that and competing,” Robinson said. “I worked my way up to starting ... I’m just trying to show them I can get open and make plays eventually.”