Spring review: The Running Backs

Running back Joe Martinek ran for 967 yards last season, but will be challenged in training camp by a pair of talented freshmen. One advantage Martinek had was spirng practice, where coach Greg Schiano wanted the junior-to-be to improve in several areas. Did he do that? Also, there was a nice surprise at the running back spot in the spring. Who was it? And what made him stand out?

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano made good on his promise not to wear out running back Joe Martinek in spring practice, but it didn't mean Martinek was going to coast through the 15 practice sessions.

Instead, the amount of times Martinek was hit was controlled despite being the only healthy scholarship running back on the roster.

Much more will be settled at the running back spot in training camp, when incoming freshmen Jawan Jamison and Casey Turner arrive and the health of returners De'Antwan Williams, Kordell Young and Mason Robinson are better known, but Rutgers did make gains at the position.

First, there was Martinek's improved running.

Second, walk-on Tyrone Putman proved he had good running instincts and could accelerate through the hole.

At the urging of the coaching staff, Martinek became more of a north-south runner, and was willing to cut up field for an extra few yards rather than bounce plays outside in an effort to make the big gainer, which he did often in 2009.

Martinek's ability to make tacklers miss in the hole and in the open field was evident, although his top-end speed remains an issue.

Another thing Schiano wanted to see out of Martinek was a willingness to take on tacklers and make a play at contact to get an extra yard or two, especially in short-yardage situations, and as the spring evolved, Martinek improved in that area.

Martinek's ability to protect the football is remained a non-issue in the spring.

Midway through last season Schiano remarked he liked the way Putman was performing in practice, and in the spring it was evident. Putman found creases at the line of scrimmage and showed a burst to get through the hole.

However, with Martinek, who rushed for 967 yards last season, returning and a promising pair of prospects in Turner and Jamison entering school, and with Robinson and Williams expected to be at full health, getting carries in training camp will be stiff competition.

Young, who said in the spring he was unsure if he would be ready to start the season, could also in the mix com late August, which gives Rutgers the opportunity to have depth at running back. While it remains to be seen whether Putman can work his way into playing position, he was a spring surprise.

When it comes to the fullbacks, Edmond Laryea and Robert Joseph could compete for playing time, but it remains to be seen whether the Scarlet Knights utilize many two-back sets.

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