The Road Ahead: Running Backs

Camp season is over at Rutgers, and with summer workouts well underway, the next step is Big Ten Media Day and training camp. The Big Ten membership date is past, and it is time to look ahead to year one. Today, we look at the running back position.

The Big Ten is known for the ground game, and power styles of offense. Rutgers has the personnel at tailback to fit in immediately. Only Ray Rice and Jawan Jamison broke 1,000 yards on the ground since the turn of the Rutgers program, but Paul James is in position to do the same as a junior and team captain candidate.

The Headline

Can James stay healthy? Injuries have been a concern for the standout tailback since his junior year of high school, and this spring was no different. James missed a third of his breakout sophomore season with injury issues. He sat out the majority of spring to heal up for training camp.

James projects to be full-go for camp, and Rutgers needs him. The former walk-on is a candidate for all-conference honors with all five offensive linemen returning and a full year of starting experience from which to draw.

Senior Savon Huggins has questionable availability for the season because of injuries. If available, Huggins provides a strong presence between the tackles, elite pass protection and an ability to help grind out games.

Camp Competition

The battle at running back is for second- and third-team work. James will be the workhorse, but the Rutgers offense has room for three or four running backs on game day. Sophomore Desmon Peoples made the biggest claim for playing time in spring. The lone healthy running back, Peoples was exciting in scrimmages and could begin camp as the second-team back (this depends on Huggins’ availability).

Sophomore Justin Goodwin flashed as a freshman, specifically against SMU, but has a lot of growth to do and missed important spring developmental time. Look for Peoples, Goodwin and Huggins to be the most involved in the competition. True freshmen will both get the chance to win playing time.

B1G Future

True freshmen Josh Hicks and Robert Martin will both have their time to shine in Rutgers uniforms. The question is when, and Hicks is in a better position for that to happen as a freshman. Martin is nine months removed from ACL surgery. Though he is expected to be full-go for summer workouts, he needs to be cleared medically before contact in training camp.

Hicks committed to Rutgers nearly two years ago. He is bulked up 30 pounds from when he lit it up at Kyle Flood’s first camp as a head coach, and is eager to throw his name in the mix for playing time.

The Bottom Line

Rutgers has to build as much depth as possible in August because the chances of James lasting 13 games at 30 carries per are very low. Peoples and Goodwin have to continue improvements in the playbook, and a healthy Huggins could mean a lot.

The more running backs Rutgers can trust, the better, because offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen will find a way to use them all to open things up for quarterback Gary Nova in the passing game.

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