2010 Season Preview: Running Backs

Projected 2010 depth chart:

HB - RS-JR Joe Martinek (6'0, 215) / SO De'Antwan Williams (5'8, 195)

FB - RS-SR Edmond Laryea (6'1, 223) / RS-FR Robert Joseph (6'2, 216)

What a difference a year made for Joe Martinek. In 2008, Martinek started to see second half carries in the latter part of the season, and performed remarkably well with limited touches. That earned him the starting nod last fall over Jourdan Brooks. Joe has a good all-around skillset, with decent burst and power. He's a downhill runner with good vision, and maybe runs a tad too upright. The end zone was a decent, workmanlike season, but now the fans have tired of him to an extent and are starting to call for a new flavor of the month. Is that fair?

GS: I think it's wide open. Joe did perform well, and he's a tough, consistent guy, but I don't think we have a guy that really makes things happen still. I think Joe is the best of what we have, but I think the competition will be wide open and Joe will be part of that competition. Unfortunately DeAntwan is coming off an injury and probably won't do very much in the spring, and our two freshmen will not start until June.

Yes and no. Martinek was still the same runner last year; the main difference being that the Rutgers offensive line was horrible at run blocking. He's not as good as he looked in limited carries behind a surging line the year before, but it's hard to knock the guy when he was usually fighting off tacklers behind the line of scrimmage on most plays. Martinek is a decent back, but a lot of his relative success, as would be for most backs, is largely dependent on support from the offensive line (and to a lesser extent, having a good passing game to keep defenses honest).

Martinek should be a capable starter, but backup De'Antwan "Rocket" Williams may be the most talented back on the roster. He reportedly had issues with ball security and pass protection last year, and no coach is going to willingly put in a player likely to fumble or get a quarterback injured. Williams was only really trusted to see the field in garbage time (along with a few brief Wildcat cameos), but his Ray Rice-like combination of power and speed could threaten for more minutes this year if he starts to put it together. The really frustrating thing here is that Rocket sat out during spring practice with an injury, so there hasn't been much news concerning his continued development lately.

Williams is more gifted, so ideally he'd start and Joe Martinek would shift into more of a reserve role. With how good Martinek looked as a receiver out of the backfield against UCF, it's a fair question to ask why he didn't see more targets on screens (Jack Corcoran can concur on that point). If and when Kordell Young returns, he'd probably be used as a third down specialist focusing on pass protection and receiving. Young's a major injury risk though, and Martinek should slide into that role if/when Young's knee gives out again.

The other factor Kordell Young brought to the table was his gamebreaking speed. While he might be able to contribute as a third down specialist as described above, multiple knee injuries have unfortunately robbed Young of his early promise. That conceivably opens up an opportunity for reserve Mason Robinson, but also serves a stark reminder of how close Robinson is to following Young's career path. Both came to campus as highly-touted speedsters. Indeed, Mason first saw the field two years ago in relief following Kordell's first major knee injury. He was then lost in the shuffle of a running back committee in 2008 that wouldn't sort out, before being redshirting last year as a result of an ACL tear in the season opener.

Robinson had been moved to wide receiver (probably a better fit for his skill set) for depth purposes, before switching back in 2010 when the WR depth improved and RB depth worsened. Yeah, there are a lot of bad early red flags here, but Mason is still an enormous talent, and shouldn't be written off with two full years of eligibility remaining. For one thing, he actually was limited in the spring, and has only had one surgery as opposed to KY's four.

According to Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, Robinson is ahead of Young health-wise – not surprising since his injury occured two months prior to Young’s.

"I definitely expect to be ready by August," said Robinson, a Somerville High graduate who’s back to his natural running back position after splitting time at wideout last summer. ""I’m just trying to go at it as hard as possible, to set myself up for the best opportunity possible this season."

While more the exception than the rule, occasionally players do finally put things together as an upperclassman. In the perfect scenario Mason would be used as a type of Percy Harvin hybrid RB/slot WR, and contribute on returns.

Walk-on Tyrone Putman is the other returning veteran following Joudan Brooks transferring to Morgan State. Of the two incoming Jacksonville-area freshmen, Casey Turner comes in to campus with considerably higher level of hype and expectations. Turner's listed measurables and workout numbers are more impressive, for whatever those are worth. He won all the accolades in high school, and the early FIU commit soon started generating additional buzz from SEC programs like Arkansas. He finally signed with Rutgers last February following multiple commitments (first from FIU, followed by Rutgers, then UNC, and then back to RU). Turner's a play to watch with his impressive combination of power and speed. It's not a stretch to imagine him as a future starter down the road.

Jawan Jamison's recruitment offers a stark comparison, as many programs like South Carolina viewed him as a fallback option, with Wake Forest (whose staff does have a reputation as keen talent evaluators) the only major in earnest pursuit. Jamison quickly jumped on a Rutgers offer that became committable once Turner's status was in question and Mustafa Greene opted for NC State's thin depth chart. At the very least he'll provide depth at what is for now a very thin position. For now he's a bit of an afterthought (especially considering that Turner made it to campus earlier), but we'll see what happens once camp is underway.

After losing Jack Corcoran to graduation and Andres Morales to transfer, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see the fullback position de-emphasized in 2010. Edmond Laryea returns as the nominal starter (with walk-on Nick DePaola listed second on the post-spring depth chart), but Laryea has bounced around in his career between fullback and linebacker, and hasn't really played all that much outside of special teams. I think Rutgers will use backup tight end Paul Carrezola as an H-Back (while sprinkling in plenty of three and four WR sets), tasked with a heavy dose of blocking and the occasional reception into the flat.

The future of the position could be redshirt freshman Robert Joseph, who missed last season injured. He was more of a playmaker than a blocker in high school, but who the hell really knows at this point. it's been suggested that another redshirt freshman in Junior Solice would bring more Morales-style bulk to the backfield, however Solice is currently listed on the team roster as a defensive lineman. Incoming freshman Sam Bergen also played some fullback in high school. All of this should be clarified once camp starts in a week.

This grouping really goes hand in hand with the play of the offensive line. Rutgers returns a better than average starter in Joe Martinek, who's adept at finding holes, but it remains to be seen whether or not those lanes will even be open. De'Antwan Williams has floated below the radar due to missing spring practice, but this is a player that everyone was really excited about a year ago. Robinson's intriguing too, although not so much as a traditional runner, and Casey Turner offers a lot of promise as well.

Honestly, it'd be reassuring to have one more veteran backup for depth purposes, but the upside to a thinner depth chart is that there won't be as much of a possibility that multiple backs will be left to stew on the bench. If Greg Schiano has shown one thing over the past decade, it's that he likes to find one workhorse, and isn't really too keen on a traditional platoon (i.e., alternating in each series) outside of down-specific packages. Rutgers is in moderate-to-good shape in the backfield, but a big worry has to be that any younger players won't get much of a chance to play outside of injury. Give them a line to run behind, and any depth issues should work themselves out in time.

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