On the eve of a key Rutgers football scrimmage, head coach Chris Ash named three undecided position battles as his focus.
Running back, although wide open for playing time, was not one of them. Rutgers has multiple proven weapons at the position and as many as four ready for action at Washington. Robert Martin Justin Goodwin, Josh Hicks and Trey Sneed are all legitimate options in the new Rutgers offense and in position for playing time.
“They're still competing all the way through camp,” said running backs coach Zak Kuhr. “It's hard to play four backs. It's not very common. I'm not a huge fan of it because, again, you want a guy to get a groove. If it happens that way, it is possible. I'm not a series-by-series guy but if it has to happen, it will. I want to see whoever earns that right going into that game and they keep that hot hand, they're going to keep rolling.”
Kuhr took it a step further during his Friday media session with the most complimentary breakdown possible of the battle.
“This is the most competitive running back group I've ever been a part of at any stop ever,” whose last two stops were James Madison and Old Dominion. “They're fighting for jobs – all of them. They're all in. Nobody knows they have a backup job. They're all fighting for a starting job and they're all fighting that way. It's the best I've ever been around.”
MARTIN CAREER STATS
Martin was the work horse in spring camp. He picked up where he left off during the start of training camp before he sat out the last week of practice for rehab work. Kuhr cited a need for mental adjustment as well for the Harrisburg (Pa.) product. Martin's focus is on following orders and preparation for Washington.
“There's no doubt,” he said when asked about playing against Washington. “I'm just ready to work, coming in each day, listening to my coaches and what they have to say. They're doing a good job.”
While Goodwin and Hicks see the most action with the ones, Martin can be found on the sidelines at practice in an intense rehabilitation regiment.
“You're definitely getting some work in with the strength staff on the sidelines,” Martin said. “Like they say, if you're not out there participating with the team, we're definitely going to make sure you're getting the same amount of work that they're getting. It's definitely tough.”
GOODWIN CAREER STATS
Goodwin built himself into a more physical runner in his final offseason. A knowledgeable pass protector in the pro-style offense, he brought the same to Drew Mehringer's power spread.
“His pass pro(tection) has been unbelievable,” Kuhr said. “He's got good ball security. He's fundamentally sound. He is technique perfect. He's making all the right execution. He has the least amount of mental errors. He's doing unbelievable He has earned the right so far.”
HICKS CAREER STATS
Hicks has been everywhere from fourth team to a starter during drills and scrimmages in training camp.
The 2014 Quick Lane Bowl MVP called the fluctuation on the depth chart “motivation” for the season. He is the only running back of the four not yet deemed “game ready” by the coaching staff.
“All of use, we're really competitive and there ain't no room for errors. All of us have that real competitive spirit so we go out there and have fun, but at the same time, play like it's our last down.”
The true freshman Sneed showcased maturity and work ethic to the coaching staff in spring practice. His training camp was not without struggle after he earned a bigger role in the offense.
Sneed struggled with ball-security issues in the first scrimmage, but also flashed serious athleticism in camp.
“I think I'm as ready as I can be,” Sneed said. “Of course your first go-around, you don't really know what it's like until you get thrown out there but we have a great supporting cast with coaches, with t he strength staff. They really prepared us to do something really big.”