April 5, 2008

Rutgers running backs making their mark

It may be only fitting that more than one running back will replace Rutgers' all time leading rusher. With Ray Rice moving on to the NFL, a host of young backs are looking to take over in the Rutgers backfield. Head coach Greg Schiano could wind up using a three or perhaps even four-headed monster this season.

Throughout the spring, only three of those heads have been able to take the field. Kordell Young is still recovering from a knee injury that ended his 2007 campaign only three games into the season.

"We certainly had big plans for Kordell before he got injured," said Schiano. "That hasn't changed. We can't wait for him to get back. With his injury, Mason [Robinson] got to see a lot of time and I think he did a good job. Jourdan Brooks and Joe Martinek are talented, so we'll see."

Mason Robinson brings with him a year of experience while Brooks and Martinek sat out last season as redshirt freshmen. All three have different running styles and present quite a contrast, which could confuse opposing defenses. In Brooks, Rutgers has a powerful back capable of grinding out tough yards up the middle.

"He's very fast, very powerful," Schiano said of Brooks. "He's got the raw ability of what you would label a big back. Yet, he's got the feet of a smaller guy. I think he's got the chance to be a real good running back."

Robinson brings yet another component to the backfield. He is a quick runner who hits the hole very well. He is capable of breaking some long runs and, much like Rice, he has shown the ability to cut back across the grain. Coming into this year, Robinson isn't at all concerned with the comparisons that the new backfield is already starting to draw with Rice.

"You can't really worry about who came before you," said Robinson. "You just have to go out and play. Your game will speak for itself if you work hard and just go out and play with confidence."

Halfway through spring practice, it is simple to see the tight competition at the position. Nevertheless, the players seem to be working together to make the new look backfield as productive as possible.

"We all help each other," said Brooks. "There's going to be a great competition between all of us. I expect the running game to be just as effective as it was last year."

The latest addition to the running back contingent has been New Jersey's all-time leader in rushing yards. Joe Martinek made the switch to running back last season and he is finally getting the chance to show why Schiano made the move.

All three backs have been impressive in the early going, intimating that the competition could last well into the season. The reinsertion of Young this summer should make for quite an explosive race heading into the season. But no matter who is lined up in the backfield, each player will be part of a strong and versatile unit that will function as one.

"The running backs are a tight group," said Martinek. "Every time someone does something well, we all do well. When someone messes up, we all learn from it. We all work with each other and try to do the best we can."



 

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