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Rutgers Football: Previewing the running back position

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Paul James, Robert Martin and Josh Hicks headline a talented Rutgers backfield.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Flood has a problem. A problem that a lot of football coaches wish they had.

Rutgers enters the 2015 football season with a stable of talented running backs. Do-it-all senior Paul James, sensational sophomores Josh Hicks and Robert Martin and the shifty Desmon Peoples are all in the backfield equation for this fall.

From Hicks' power to James' pass-catching to Martin's speed, each back brings something else to the table.  So not only does Flood have a lot of backs, but he has a lot of backs with different skill sets.

But, the big questions remains. Are there enough carries to go around?

The Measurables

Name Year Ht / Wt 2014 ATT-YDS-TD
Paul James RS Senior 6-0 / 205 63-363-7 (2 rec) in 4 games
Josh Hicks Sophomore 5-10 / 205 69-440-2 in 5 games
Robert Martin Sophomore 6-0 / 200 87-434-7 in 8 games
Desmon Peoples RS Junior 5-8 / 175 115-447-3 in 10 games
Justin Goodwin Junior 6-0 / 200 83-328-1 in 9 games

The Players

Paul James' recovery from a torn ACL, suffered in the fourth game of last season, is going well and, if healthy, he should be the main back in the opener vs. Norfolk State. James is not only the most experienced back on the roster, but he is also the most complete.

Although Hicks and Martin both showed flashes of brilliance late last season, neither displayed the kind of receiving skills James has shown over the years. Watch him take this simple swing route to the house. Keep in mind that this was his second receiving touchdown of the game (the first went for 60 yards).

Balance, patience, vision, quickness, speed. James has a bit of it all. He doesn't do one thing great, but he does everything well. The Glassboro, New Jersey, native is hard-nosed kid who will use last season's injury as motivation, not as an excuse.  The only thing stopping James from being the bell cow is his health.

Sophomores Josh Hicks and Robert Martin blossomed late last year, carrying the Knights to a win over Indiana and then ending the season with an electrifying performance in the bowl victory over North Carolina. In the bowl game, Martin and Hicks combined for 302 yards and three touchdowns.

Hicks is an old school, one-cut runner who does not shy away from contact. He hits the hole with power and consistently fights for extra yardage.

Hicks runs with a low pad level and proved he could be a workhorse if necessary, toting the rock 20 times against Indiana and 19 against North Carolina.

On the other hand, Martin may not be the work horse that Hicks is, but he's certainly more of a playmaker. Martin's speed proved to be the perfect compliment to Hicks' power.  He's the home run threat that every offense needs in order to keep defenses honest, as his straight-line speed forces defenders to be cautious. One bad angle and this happens.

The success Hicks and Martin had in the bowl game is hard to ignore, but part of that is due to horrible defense by the Tar Heels (North Carolina ranked 117th out of 125 FBS schools in run defense). Both have bright futures ahead of them, but neither are well-rounded or experienced enough to take away the spotlight from James.

Juniors Desmon Peoples and Justin Goodwin are the two backs who could suffer the most from the crowded running back situation.

Peoples is a small, elusive back with great hands and is a human joystick in the open field. He's a great third-down back, but the problem is, so is James. Peoples will likely be the fourth option at running back, utilized on third-and-long scenarios.

Goodwin, who initially replaced James last season, is a versatile player who has experience as a defensive back.  With questions in the secondary, Goodwin could return to cornerback.

True freshman Charles Snorweah, who posted some ridiculous numbers his senior year at Pennsbury (Pa.), could also factor into the equation. Peoples, Goodwin and Snorweah are all good backs and could turn out to be big contributors if the injury bug bites again.

The Conclusion

With key losses at quarterback, receiver and offensive line, running back is Rutgers' biggest strength on offense.  If healthy, James will be the lead back with spells of Hicks and Martin. That trio should see plenty of touches to take pressure off rookie quarterbacks Chris Laviano and/or Hayden Rettig.

One big question surrounding this group is who will replace fullback Michael Burton? Burton was a human wrecking ball in the run game, clearing lanes and opening gaps while also serving as a team leader and motivator.  Sixth-year player Sam Bergen is the likely replacement, now that promising freshman Jacob Kraut has decided to transfer.

If Flood and McDaniels can find a way to utilize each of the running backs to their individual strengths, the Rutgers ground game could take the Knights a long way.

Note: This is the second positional preview. Check out our quarterback preview here.