NFC South Reporter
ATLANTA — Bijan Robinson only got to play one series Friday night, touching the ball four times in his first NFL preseason action, but as sneak previews go, the Falcons rookie couldn’t hold back his excitement.
“I was definitely a little nervous,” the 21-year-old said at his locker after a 13-13 tie with the Bengals. “Just the first one. My teammates were like ‘Just go out there and get the first play out of the way,’ and as soon as the first play was over, I was ready. It all went away. I was definitely a little nervous going into it, but that was natural, just a human being.”
That first carry came on the third play of the game, a 12-yard run to the right side that saw him cut left and right to make opponents miss. He got three more carries, finishing with 20 yards total, and a 15-play drive ended without any points as Desmond Ridder’s third-down pass at the goal line was deflected and intercepted by the Bengals.
That was it for the offensive starts, but it served as Robinson’s first taste of his home stadium and its fans, impressing him even with less on hand for a preseason game.
“It was awesome,” he said. “That was a lot of people. It was super-cool to look at, and how loud they were. I liked their energy the whole time. I know they’re super-supportive, so to play in front of them, I’m really ready for the season.”
Friday was merely the preseason, but it gave Robinson many firsts, including his first postgame NFL jersey swap, trading his black No. 7 Falcons jersey for former Texas teammate Joseph Ossai’s white No. 58 Bengals jersey. As a rookie, his locker is one of several temporary lockers in the middle of the locker room, which doesn’t have enough permanent lockers to handle the current 90-man roster.
The Falcons took Robinson out of Texas with the eighth pick in April’s draft, and at a time when NFL running backs are being devalued across the league, Atlanta is investing heavily in the position. The Falcons had the NFL’s No. 3 rushing attack last year without him, so there’s huge optimism about what he can bring to the offense and how he can take pressure off a young quarterback.
“He’s incredible,” said Pro Bowl guard Chris Lindstrom after the game. “He’s so talented, works so hard. For him to come out and have success, it’s awesome. I can’t wait for what the future holds.
[Auman: NFL young talent rankings: No. 19 Falcons’ stockpile headlined by Bijan Robinson]
Falcons coach Arthur Smith opted not to play his starters in the preseason opener, which set up Friday at home as a chance to showcase Robinson, as well as Ridder and a healthy tight end Kyle Pitts, back after missing much of last season with injury.
“I thought he handled it really well,” Smith said. “I thought Bijan would be operating fast, and it certainly didn’t look too big for him.”
The Falcons limited themselves with penalties throughout Friday’s game, with seven in the first quarter alone, so Atlanta actually had 106 yards of offense on that opening drive. Ridder spread the ball around — 10 yards to receiver Mack Hollins, 9 to Pitts, 10 to Hollins, 12 and 21 to receiver Drake London and 12 to receiver KhaDarel Hodge, in addition to Robinson’s 20 yards.
Bijan Robinson, Jalen Carter, Zay Flowers make Acho’s list of the top five most impactful non-QB rookies
“We looked very explosive,” Robinson said. “It didn’t end how we wanted it to, but going down the whole field how we did, we had a couple of penalties, but other than that, we looked really explosive for the first drive we’re out there.
It’s unknown how much he’ll play in Thursday’s preseason finale, at home against Pittsburgh, and then he’ll have 17 days before the Falcons open the regular season at home against the Panthers.
“I’m glad we got to go out there for a whole series, to feel comfortable,” he said. “I felt good out there.”
Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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