Heading into training camp, most assumed veteran Branden Albert would be the runaway favorite to win the Jaguars' starting left tackle competition.
Four practices into the position battle, Albert is no longer even an option. The former Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs lineman retired on Monday, with an announcement being made while rookie Cam Robinson manned his old spot on the practice field.
Robinson has now become the favorite to take on the role.
The second-round pick started 43 games at left tackle at Alabama over the past three seasons. He faced the top pass rushers in the country on a near weekly basis.
Some would argue that while he is a rookie, his background has prepared him for the immediate pressure of starting Week 1 against the Houston Texans.
“Honestly, the speed hasn’t really been too big of a difference," Robinson said, regarding the upgrade in the level competition in the NFL. "I played at a pretty good college program. It really hasn’t been too devastating for me.”
The Jaguars front office and coaching staff have been adamant throughout the offseason that Robinson would be a legit contender for the starting left tackle job. The team has led on that they are comfortable starting a rookie left tackle right away.
While the team is open to starting the rookie immediately, Albert's absence will not force Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone to name Robinson the starter.
"I think that coming from the University of Alabama obviously helps," Marrone said of Robinson's preparation for a bigger role.
"He played against elite players every day and practiced against them every day, but sometimes that is ingrained in those players’ heads and they don’t understand that when they come to this level, they’ve got to be faster and stronger than those guys, even though those guys have become good football players. It’s one of those things, he’s in there now, we’re playing with him, but again, I don’t want to hand a position to somebody."
The first practice without Albert was the same as the previous three. Robinson continued to rotate with the first team.
Marrone has stayed true to his word that rookies will need to compete for their opportunities. He wants the left tackle competition to continue, even without the presence of Albert.
"They have to earn it on this team, so we’ll look at ways Josh Wells can play out there," Marrone said. "I think Pat, if we had to put [Patrick Omameh] out there. Seeing if something is going to happen when I talked to management, bringing somebody in. We really haven’t had a lot of time to discuss that, but I know in my mind, I want to make sure that Cam goes out there and earns that position.”
The competition isn't exactly daunting for Robinson.
Wells has never started an NFL game and has only played 113 more NFL offensive snaps than Robinson. Omameh has started 25 games but has only done so as a guard.
Robinson has a clear pathway to one of the biggest roles on the Jaguars' offense. Still, he isn't sweating the pressure of potentially facing off against Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt on Sept. 10.
“I had the mindset of coming in and working," Robinson said. "Let the chips fall where they may. Come in and take care of my responsibility and just do what I was asked. Just go about my business that way every day.”
Marrone told Robinson when the Jaguars selected him that he would be tough on the rookie. Robinson said he has already delivered on that promise.
“You all may not see it, but I definitely hear it," Robinson said. "It is something I hear on the daily. He is just coaching me up on all the little things. Every little part of the game that I can get better at. I am not perfect by any stretch. I have something on every rep that I can work on, so he is just been real tough on me about that. It is just coaching.”
Marrone's attention to detail will only help Robinson as he prepares to block the blindside for quarterback Blake Bortles. The rookie has a huge opportunity in front of him and he will only succeed if he continues to work on every facet of his game.
To his credit, Robinson said he came into the NFL wanting to perfect his craft. Recent events haven't impacted his preparation.
“I think I already had that mindset in the first place," Robinson said. "I wanted to come in and be a sponge and soak everything up as fast as I could, regardless of who was here and who wasn’t here. I don’t think [Albert's retirement] has changed my preparation.”
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.
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