The unusual transition from wide receiver to defensive end that Dominique Robinson made in college originated with a photograph.
The picture was taken on the field after a Miami (Ohio)-Akron game in 2018. It featured a pair of former standouts at McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio—Robinson and Akron edge rusher Jamal Davis.
While Robinson was a fledgling receiver trying to learn a new position after playing quarterback in high school, Davis was a pass rusher who possessed NFL talent and is currently with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Robinson's friends who saw the photo noticed that the two possessed similar body types and wondered why he wasn't also an edge rusher.
"We played Akron one year and I took a picture with him and all my boys were like, 'You know him?'" Robinson said. "We're kind of built the same, so they were like, 'Bro, you might as well move over to defense.'
"So, that was all in the back of my head. I'm going through the 2019 season at wide receiver and it wasn't going my way. I love watching college football, so I'm watching (Ohio State's) Chase Young just run around people, so I'm like, 'Man, if I can't do that, there's something wrong with me.' So, that's what kind of pushed me to do that."
Robinson kept the idea to himself until he texted coach Chuck Martin a few days after Miami had defeated Central Michigan in the MAC championship game in December 2019 and asked if they could meet in person.
"I went into the head coach's room and I was just like, 'I want to move to defense, defensive end,'" Robinson said. "He was like, 'Oh, man.' I felt like he thought I was going to transfer and ask to get into the portal. But he was wide open to it. He said he was also thinking about moving me to an 'H,' like a tight end. But that wasn't a good spot for me at the time."
“You can never have too many pass rushers, and this kid can do that.” Bears area scout Brendan Rehor on Dominique Robinson
Robinson officially made the switch to defense in 2020, but it wasn't an easy transformation. He had already bulked up from 220 to 234 pounds when he moved from quarterback to receiver. But he knew he'd have to add even more weight to his 6-5 frame to play defensive end. So, he met with a nutritionist and developed a plan that enabled him to eventually reach 252 pounds.
"It was five meals a day; three main meals and then two kind of healthy fat meals like yogurt," Robinson said. "It was tiny things like adding oil and guacamole to salads and things like that, those healthy fats that kind of put on a little bit [of weight]."
As he reshaped his body, Robinson began learning technique and fundamentals, initially concentrating on rushing the quarterback.
"I really wanted to focus on my pass rush moving into the position, because I knew that's what would get me to this point," he said. "Then I focused on the running game in 2021 because I knew I wouldn't be able to get here unless I had that with the pass rush. So [I was] kind of trying to take it in pieces."
The Bears are excited about Robinson's potential.
"Anytime you can rush the passer, that's a trait that you can hang your hat on," area scout Brendan Rehor said after the draft. "That's a trait we look for. You can never have too many pass rushers, and this kid can do that.
"The athlete stands out. There's only upside with this kid, which is what we're betting on and what we invested in. The athlete himself, the frame, he's a lean dude. He started as an offensive player … but there's only upside with this kid. There's only athletic ability. There's a lot of stuff to work with with him."
At the Senior Bowl, Robinson showed he could compete with some of the top draft prospects.
"I would say there is some rawness to him, but this kid can rush the passer," Rehor said. "I think he showed this at the Senior Bowl. That was really where he made, I thought, his biggest step where he [showed he] belonged."
The Bears are counting on their defensive coaches, led by coordinator Alan Williams and defensive line coach Travis Smith, to bring out the best in Robinson.
"We wouldn't have selected that player if we didn't believe in our coaching staff, we didn't see the upside in the player," general manager Ryan Poles said after the draft. "We brought a lot of good teachers in this building, so that's where it pays off.
"He's long, he's flexible, he can dip. He's fairly new to the position, but you saw the flashes. An old mentor of mine told me when it comes to defensive players, grade the flashes. You can develop that. If you do it once, you can do it again. So, we all saw that and I'm excited to see what kind of player he turns into."