Setbacks are nothing new to Robert Martin.
Before his arrival at Rutgers out of Harrisburg (Pa.) High, Martin suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of his senior season. Martin pushed his way back onto the field and earn his carries in the Big Ten.
So while his reps in training camp were limited, Martin said he will be ready when Rutgers ventures to the west coast for Saturday’s opener at No. 14 Washington.
“It’s going good,” he said. “I’m learning, still getting in that playbook everyday, trying to get better in film study and just doing anything I can to help the team.”
Martin exploded onto the scene for the Scarlet Knights as a freshman midway through the 2014 season. Over his first two seasons in Piscataway, Martin racked up a team-best 13 touchdowns and added an average of 5.3 yards per carry.
As Rutgers transitions from a pro-style offense to the run-heavy spread scheme, Martin fully welcomes an approach that could spike those numbers in his junior season.
“Definitely,” Martin said, when asked if he thinks this could be a breakout year. “I just want to come into work everyday and display what I got and try to help this team. I’m not worried. I just know my teammates got my back, my coaches got my back and I just got to come out to work everyday.”
Although running backs coach Zak Kuhr said there is still room for Martin to improve, he spoke confidently about the junior’s ability to shoulder the load.
“He’s getting used to this system still a little bit,” Kuhr said. “I wouldn’t be worried about putting (Martin) in the game at all, wouldn’t be worried about that. I want to eliminate some of the mental errors, but he’s coming along.”
Martin opened training camp at the top of the depth chart, but was listed as the co-backup with junior Josh Hicks. Senior Justin Goodwin, who opened August as the No. 2 option at running back behind Martin, earned the start for week one after a solid camp.
While Martin said his goal is to get the reps of a feature back, the competition at the position drives him.
“We feed off each other definitely in a positive way because everybody in that room’s talented,” he said. “One person goes into the game and has success, the next person wants to have the same, contribute the same way. So we definitely like that. … We definitely bring a lot of energy by playing together and helping each other out.”
The little things will stand out. They harped on versatility as an important aspect, namely pass protection and receiving out of the backfield.
In the offseason after an impressive spring, Martin made it an emphasis to improve his game with both areas.
“I definitely feel comfortable catching the ball out the backfield and being able to pass block,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in that. I take pride in being aggressive and trying to get the ball in open space, and I feel as if we did a lot of that this offseason in just running routes, catching with the quarterbacks and just doing all types of little things to perfect our craft and I think all the RBs feel comfortable.”
While the most recent two deep provides an answer to who the first running back out on the field will be, specifics on the rotation remain to be seen. Offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer has yet to single out his preference and Kuhr reiterated that on Tuesday.
As far as Martin is concerned, he said he would be ready for whenever his number gets called.
“I just know we’re going to run a lot of plays and play in the Big Ten, a real tough conference, so you never know,” Martin said. “The next man up could be week one, so you just got to go out there playing like it’s your last game and you just got to go hard no matter any chance you get — just go. And coach is going to put whoever out on the field that they feel is going to help the team win.”