‘It’s sobering’: Commanders players react to Brian Robinson Jr. shooting

'It's sobering': Commanders react to Robinson Jr. shooting originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ASHBURN, Va. — The mood was far more somber than usual at the Washington Commanders’ headquarters on Monday as the team held its first practice since news broke that rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. was shot in Washington, D.C. on Sunday evening.

Robinson was taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, where a contingent of Washington’s executives — including head coach Ron Rivera, co-owners Dan and Tanya Snyder and running backs coach Randy Jordan — were in attendance. Rivera said there was no timeline for Robinson’s return on Monday but sounded optimistic when discussing the running back’s recovery. Robinson posted on his Instagram story that he underwent surgery.

Commanders players found out about the news differently. Jonathan Allen heard after his brother sent him a text message about it. Carson Wentz found out through a group chat with Commanders’ offensive linemen. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin found out via multiple texts from his teammates as well.

After finding out the news, football was the last thing that Washington’s leaders were worried about.

“The first thing you’re thinking is, ‘Is he OK?'” McLaurin added. “My main concern was ‘Is he going to be OK?’ Not football, at all. Once we found out that it was non-life-threatening injuries, I just wanted to continue to pray for him. … I’m glad that he’s healthy and alive.”

“At the end of the day, the biggest thing is that he’s safe,” Allen said. “He’s not dead, and it’s not life-threatening. That’s all that matters.”

Wentz took a similar tone as Allen and McLaurin.

“It’s sobering, for sure,” Wentz said. “You hear that news and it’s like ‘this isn’t even [about] football anymore.’ Someone was shot. This is a real-life, off-the-field thing that someone is going through. … We’re not immune to it.”

Wentz, Allen and McLaurin all reached out to Robinson by sending a text message wishing him well.

“It’s a wake-up call to everybody. There are real-life problems out there in this world. Thankfully, Brian is doing well, I’m told, and I look forward to seeing it,” Wentz said. “We’re a family and we want to keep it that way. Pray for everybody when they’re going through stuff off the field.”

Before Monday’s practice began, Rivera called a team meeting to speak with the players about Robinson’s situation. Then once they hit the field, the head coach had everyone huddle for another message before breaking off for positional drills. During that team chat Rivera also announced that Ernie Zampese, the father of Commanders QB coach Ken Zampese and a longtime NFL assistant, had died.

Despite the frightening news that occurred Sunday, both Rivera and Wentz said they were pleased with the energy and tempo of the players at practice. As difficult as the past 18 hours had been for the organization, there is still a job to be done.

“You wouldn’t be able to play in the NFL if you let distractions get to you,” Allen said. “Even though this is a very tragic and sad situation, B-Rob understands — he would be mad at us if we let his situation affect us. I know what kind of guy he is. I know how he would want us to go out there and play. And he’s fine. He’ll be back. We have a job to do.”

Since Rivera arrived in 2020, the Commanders have endured one off-the-field event after another. McLaurin, like his head coach, has been here for it all. McLaurin feels that Rivera has set the standard for how to deal with difficult situations.

“You can’t just breeze over it or move past it because you got to play football. We’re human beings and it does affect our mental [health], just the way it shakes your whole day when things like that happen,” McLaurin said. “We also understand that we do have to come out here and do our job, practice hard and prepare. I think it starts with Coach Rivera and how he comes in and addresses us in those team meetings. It allows us to know what’s going on and how we move forward. He sets that standard and as leaders, we try to echo that.”

McLaurin later added that one way he’s coped with everything that’s occurred the past few years has been by seeing a therapist. Monday was not the first time he specifically brought up how talking to a therapist has helped him. 

“It makes the load a lot lighter when you don’t feel like you’re carrying it alone,” McLaurin said.

McLaurin was particularly devastated when he first heard the news because he’s taken a mentorship role with the rookie this summer. The wideout explained that Robinson sits next to him during offensive meetings and the young running back’s work ethic and approach have impressed McLaurin.

Football-wise, Robinson had as strong a camp as any Commanders player. Expected to be Washington’s change-of-pace back, Robinson impressed enough to earn significant playing time with the starting unit by the end of training camp.

Yet, despite his quick ascent to the top of the depth chart, McLaurin noticed that Robinson remained eager to help the Commanders out any way he can, whether that be on offense or on special teams. McLaurin said that mentality reminded him of when he was a rookie and rose from a third-round draft pick to the team’s No. 1 wideout in the span of a few weeks.

McLaurin and Wentz both spoke glowingly of how well Robinson has fit in with the Commanders since arriving. While the team understands it might be some time before the running back returns, they’re happy that he’s doing well after surgery. When Robinson is ready to rejoin his teammates, the locker room will welcome him with open arms.

“B-Rob is someone who’s come in here and fit in right away,” McLaurin said. “His personality is infectious. Just the way he comes around here, he’s excited to come to work.”

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