JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The "James Robinson Benching Saga" dominated the sports headlines locally in Jacksonville this week. The second-year tailback fumbled in the Jaguars' Week Thirteen loss to the Rams, his second fumble in as many weeks but only the second of his career; for a second straight week, Robinson did not return to the game until late in the second quarter and then was used sparingly throughout the second-half. All this despite Robinson rushing for over 1,000 yards a year ago in just 14 games -- not to mention fighting a nagging heel and knee injury. Robinson went on a local TV program in Jacksonville Monday and admitted he felt like he was "benched."
Meyer insisted he was not behind the decision and that "benching" Robinson was not intentional. He told reporters he met with Robinson one-on-one after the game. Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence spoke out in defense of Robinson on Wednesday following the game, saying he told the staff that Robinson "is one of the team's best players and needs to play;" Lawrence said that the team came together, agreed, and was "moving on," knowing Robinson's work-load needed to increase. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell declined comment on the subject.
As it turns out: that disagreement was just the tip of the iceberg.
NFL Network's Tom Pelissero released a detailed report Saturday describing the dysfunctional environment created at TIAA Bank Field over the course of the Jaguars' 2-10, 2021 season. Among the instances of conflict, in the past two weeks alone:
- Receiver Marvin Jones -- one of the locker room's most respected and mild-mannered veterans -- became so angry with Meyer's public and private criticism of the receiver group that he left the facility until other staff members convinced him to come back and had a heated argument with Meyer during practice.
- During a staff meeting, Meyer delivered a biting message that he's a winner and his assistant coaches are losers, according to several people informed of the contents of the meeting, challenging each coach individually to explain when they've ever won and forcing them to defend their résumés.
- Contrary to his public statements that it was injury-related, Meyer ordered Robinson's benching after an opening-drive fumble in last week's 37-7 road loss to the Rams, then had running backs coach Bernie Parmalee stop Robinson from re-entering the game, insisting Carlos Hyde (who played for Meyer at Ohio State) stay in. Only after Lawrence questioned Meyer on the sideline about Robinson's absence was Robinson allowed to return late in the second quarter. (Speaking to reporters this week, Lawrence said: "Bottom line is James is one of our best players and he's got to be on the field and we addressed it, and I feel like we're in a good spot and the whole team, we're good.")
CBS Sports then released a report later in the day Saturday further expanding on the Robinson situation. According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, Meyer himself made it clear over the coaches' headsets during Sunday's loss that Robinson was to not return to the game after his fumble. Lawrence went up to Meyer at one point to ask why Robinson was not playing. In his post-game remarks, Meyer said running backs coach Bernie Parmalee was in charge of the running backs rotation, something that "shocked coaches and players," according to La Canfora, because offensive quality control coach Kyle Caskey has primarily been in charge of personnel decisions.
La Canfora also reported that associate head coach and inside linebackers coach Charlie Strong has gained momentum as a potential replacement for Meyer, if Meyer is not retained after the season. Reports also surfaced that Bevell, who served as interim head coach in Detroit after Matt Patricia was fired in 2020, could also be a candidate.
All this after Meyer's controversial decision to not take the team plane back from a Week Four game in Cincinnati. All this on the heels of the viral video that then surfaced of Meyer and a young woman at his Ohio bar that same weekend. All this while the Jaguars departed for Nashville Saturday afternoon ahead of Sunday's game with AFC South rival Tennessee (8-4).
It's Week Fourteen. There's still five games to go.