Robert Martin leads position group in first game playing in spread
When Robert Martin first heard about Chris Ash’s vision for the Rutgers football team’s offense, he wasn’t afraid to show how he felt about it.
“Rob Martin in a spread offense.... Need I say more lol....” was tweeted out by Martin the day of Ash’s introductory press conference, a multitude of ecstatic emojis following the four-dot ellipsis.
The junior running back and his teammates had met with Ash at 7 a.m. earlier that morning and were told Ash’s vision for the program, which included the changing of offensive philosophy.
After playing in a pro-style offense under former head coach Kyle Flood, who continued the use of the traditional offense used under his predecessor Greg Schiano, in his first two years with the Scarlet Knights, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native was finally going to get a chance to show his skill set in the offense he shone in during high school.
A projected starter throughout the spring and entering fall camp, Martin picked up an injury that slowed his progress. Wearing a green practice jersey indicating him as “limited” for the final few weeks of camp, he didn’t participate in the Knights' season-opening 48-13 loss to then-No. 14 Washington in Seattle.
Senior Justin Goodwin started against the Huskies and was listed as a starter entering the second game week as Rutgers prepared to host Howard in its home opener, but the first offensive snap of the game saw Martin alongside junior quarterback Chris Laviano in the shotgun.
Martin recovered in time to take the field against the Bison and he took advantage of his first opportunity to play in the spread he was so excited about eight months earlier, leading everyone not named Janarion Grant in rushing yards with 83 on 16 carries — 18 more than Goodwin garnered in the first two games combined.
“It definitely felt good getting back out there, getting back to the game speed,” Martin said. “Especially when we started going fast in the second half, executing on first and second downs, really get to see our offense open up and it’s definitely a nice thing to see and I was glad to be a part of it.”
The injury was the first since the knee injury that caused him to miss all but one game in his senior season of high school. It was a disappointing development after Martin ran for 1,812 yards and 10 touchdowns in his junior year playing in a spread offense likely similar to the one he’s in now.
Having not played in the system for a pair of years, Martin and Laviano had to create chemistry in the offseason to work on the timing and execution of the option-based offense. But despite missing reps in the fall and not performing in the spread at game speed in a long while, Martin didn’t miss a beat.
“It definitely went as smoothly as I expected,” he said. “We got to run it during the spring, I ran this type of offense during high school so it wasn’t something I wasn’t used to. Everything I think went good.”
His numbers weren’t as impressive as Grant’s, the wide receiver, running back, wildcat quarterback, kick-off and punt returning renaissance man of the Rutgers offense, but Ash didn’t hesitate to put them in the same company.
I thought he showed some signs of burst and speed and change of direction at the running back position that we're looking for to help our run game, and really excited to have him back,” he said. “When we look at our list of top potential playmakers on offense, we put Rob Martin in the top group of guys that needs to get the ball, whether it be in the run game or in the throw game, and I'm glad he's back and he's healthy and he had a good game.”
His performance was solid, but his position coach still sees some things to improve on.
“He just has to shake a little bit of rust off, but he’s getting going,” said running backs coach Zak Kuhr. “Just working on finishing, practicing at game speed, but it takes time to mold that unity between one line.”
Martin concurred, mentioning he has to make sure his mind isn’t “spinning” due to the fast pace of the offense.
The adjustment to the game speed began in the second game of the season after eight months of anticipation and like he did when the journey started, he took to Twitter to share his feelings afterward.
"Glad to be back out there with my brothers," he wrote.