Junior FB embraces blocking role
Michael Burton’s only two carries this season came in the third quarter Sept. 7 against Norfolk State.
That means no handoffs went to the junior fullback in the Rutgers football team’s past four contests.
He could care less.
“You don’t always have to be involved in the offense getting the ball or being the guy who scores all the touchdowns,” Burton said. “You can have a significant role in the offense by blocking, catching balls, so I work on that every single day.”
Burton has been more impactful in the receiving game this season, collecting eight receptions for 89 yards. His longest catch went for 24 yards against Louisville.
Head coach Kyle Flood said in recent weeks he would like to see Burton get more carries, whether it be from the fullback position or in a single-back set.
Rutgers has stuck with two running backs — junior Savon Huggins and freshman Justin Goodwin — since sophomore Paul James went down with a lower leg injury Sept. 21 against Arkansas.
Though Burton has not been used in the running game in terms of carries, Flood knows how valuable he is to the Knights’ production out of the backfield.
Burton’s handling of blocking responsibilities even mirrors that of past fullbacks who have made their way through the program, according to Flood.
“Michael has proven that he can make plays,” Flood said. “He is an extremely valuable guy — the type of fullbacks we want to play with, the Brian Leonards, the Jack Corcorans and now our guy Michael Burton. That’s the kind of fullback we want.”
But unlike those two, Burton has blocked behind a revolving door.
He was out in front of Huggins in the Knights’ season opener before James took control as the lead back.
After James’ injury against the Razorbacks, Goodwin received the bulk of the carries in the Knights’ 55-52 victory against the Mustangs. Goodwin and Huggins both spilt the workload in Rutgers’ last game against Louisville.
The Knights’ bye week after the Louisville game allowed the unit to attempt to improve on their 12-yard rushing outing.
“We’re just fortunate to have those few bye [weeks],” Huggins said. “… We had some things we had to work on.”
Burton does not mind who is running behind him, much like his mentality when it comes to receiving running plays designed for himself.
“It just goes to show I can be consistent and continue to do my job no matter what running back is in there,” Burton said. “I’ve had three different running backs thus far, but they’re all great backs and they make me look good so I can’t complain. Just because it’s a different running back doesn’t mean that I should block any way different.”
Flood said after yesterday’s practice that establishing a running game is important on Saturday against Houston’s high-tempo offense.
Burton believes there are other ways the Knights can generate the run without him having the ball in his hands.
“I take much more pride in being that guy who leads through the hole and blows up that linebacker so my running back can go free for the touchdown, or be that guy in the backfield who can pick up that blitz so Gary can get the ball off,” Burton said. “I take a lot of pride in that.”
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