LAKE FOREST – Growing up, Dominique Robinson was, like most prolific high school athletes, confident in his abilities and his football future.
That belief remained when Robinson, a quarterback by trade, converted to wide receiver during his freshman season at Miami University. During the 2018 season, Robinson caught 13 passes for 156 yards and four touchdowns. He felt the transition taking hold. The 2019 season was going to be his coming out party and put him firmly on the NFL's radar.
Life had different plans for Robinson. He admits he started to doubt whether or not football was in his long-term future. At least the way he wanted it to look.
"I was like, 'This next season is going to be my season,'" Robinson told NBC Sports Chicago. "I ended up having Lisfranc on my foot. The season just didn't go how I planned it. At that point, I'm like, I know I might be able to make it off of how I look but I didn't think it was going to be like this. I wanted more."
Robinson didn't want to get a phone call from the NFL purely off his measurables. There's no doubt that at 6-foot-5 with 33 ¼ arms and a 4.72 40, Robinson would get a cup of coffee at least. NFL teams don't ignore the unteachables.
But Robinson's goals and desires went far beyond making a pit stop at the highest level based on his looks. He knew the gifts he was given at birth shouldn't be wasted. They couldn't.
The Lisfranc injury changed Robinson's view of where he was best suited to impact the game. A playmaker by nature, Robinson looked around college football and saw elite pass rushers changing the game, fueled by the same natural tools he possesses.
"I love watching college football," Robinson said at Bears rookie minicamp. "So I'm watching 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."
After two seasons on defense and an impressive performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, Robinson got a call from the Bears in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
The dream was very much alive.
The Bears see loads of untapped potential in Robinson. His physical talent is matched only by his drive not to sacrifice the tools God gave him.
To Robinson, being a Chicago Bear is now who he is; it's ingrained in his DNA as he works to make NFL dreams reality.
"I was blessed with these gifts, so I don't want to waste them," Robinson told NBC Sports Chicago. "My wife moved up here, so I want to succeed for [my family] as well. That's why I have a routine now.
"When I was a student, I'd leave practice and you have homework and everything else. Now, this is what I do. This is it. So, I'm here. Always. Being a lot better of taking care of my body. I'm ready to do anything I need to. For myself and the Bears."
Robinson arrived in Chicago as a key part of general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberlfus' first draft class.
It's a group headlined by Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, who are expected to provide Day 1 support for a rebuilt secondary. Velus Jones Jr. and Braxton Jones have the ability to become 10-year pros.
Robinson is their big swing. A high ceiling "project" who the Bears can mold into an elite pass-rusher with the right blend of coaching and his never-stope-chopping work ethic.
Everyone around Halas Hall sees what Robinson might one day become.
"He's a very talented young pass rusher," veteran defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad said. "He's going to be great. He's going to be great. He comes in every day, he works hard. I see him in here early taking care of his body. Sometimes as a young pass rusher, some guys don't actually have that. He's locked in and he's eager to get better each and every day. He's going to be great."
"So far, it hasn't gotten too big," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "Each situation, each install that comes in, he's, he gobbles the install up, the things that we teach him. And then it goes from the classroom to individual to group, and then on the field, you see whatever we're teaching.
"Every day is a new day for him. There's something that comes up that he goes, 'OK, we need to teach you that or read your keys a little bit better," but the next day, it's corrected. So it's nice when you have a player that maybe makes a mistake Day 1, you correct it in the meeting, and then Day 2, he fixes it when it comes up again. That's the sign of a guy that's going to be OK, a guy that's a professional."
Robinson's ability to quickly translate classroom lessons to on-field action is a habit left over from his previous life as a quarterback.
"Being a quarterback, it was a lot easier to watch film and tell whether you messed up or not," Robinson told NBC Sports Chicago. "You know if you missed the throw or made the wrong read. Obviously, I know if I get a sack that it was good. But it's hard with like setting the edge and those things. I'm a perfectionist, so I always think I did something wrong. I don't get down on myself. That's not who I am. The coaches will tell me when the rep is good or not.
"As a quarterback you have to be a perfectionist and always working, so I'm taking that mindset into this."
That quest for perfection is now being aided by a veteran leader on the Bears' defense – Robert Quinn.
Quinn was a no-show at OTAs and mandatory minicamp, choosing to stay away and work on his body. Ever since Quinn arrived at training camp, Robinson has been learning as much as he can from the guy who notched 18.5 sacks last season.
"It's been great because I can now watch him do some things and I can learn," Robinson told NBC Sports Chicago about getting to pick Quinn's brain. "There's a move that he does that I've been doing, but he does it a different way. Being able to watch him do it and win with it, teaches me how to be better with it."
That move, a simple cross chop, could be the first move in the ever-expanding tool kit of the Bears' next great pass-rusher.
Robinson admits he's still very early on in his pass-rush life. He knows he has a lot to work on, from level-rushing to contain.
The molding of Dominique Robinson from former quarterback to elite pass-rusher might take time, but the Bears believe the finished product will be a sight to behold.
"The sky is the limit," Williams said of Robinson.
Robinson has always understood the results he dreams of won't come overnight. They'll be a product of long days and nights spent in the film room, the weight room, and on the field, sharpening his tools into elite pass-rush weapons.
The Bears' belief in Robinson and rebuilding status should allow both to exercise patience as signal-caller turned quarterback hunter works to unearth the draft gem Poles believes he's found.
"It's perfect for me," Robinson told NBC Sports Chicago. "It means I'm in a good situation. It means I have a lot of room to get better."
Robinson has always known his NFL shot would come. He's been told from an early age how rare his physical gifts are. They are the kind that gives you the ability to switch positions twice, swap sides of the ball, and still have NFL teams dreaming about the possibilities.
Robinson won't disagree with Williams that the "sky is the limit" for him. But he's well aware getting from the ground to the stratosphere will take every ounce of blood, sweat, and belief in his body.
"It means I have a long way to go," Robinson said with a laugh when asked about Williams' comment.
The longest and most difficult journeys often have the biggest payoffs.
Dominique Robinson's is one the Bears are willing to wait for.