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Schiano sees former back in Martinek

<p>Senior fullback Joe Martinek caught 2 passes for 17 yards
against North Carolina and picked up a first down rushing.</p>

Senior fullback Joe Martinek caught 2 passes for 17 yards against North Carolina and picked up a first down rushing.

For one brief moment in the Rutgers football team’s matchup with North Carolina, Joe Martinek provided a flashback to the offense of Scarlet Knights teams’ past.

The senior fullback hauled in a pass from sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd along the sideline and hurdled a defender near the first-down marker, reminiscent of former fullback Brian Leonard.

While Martinek still has a long way to go to make fans yearn for the “Leonard Leap,” he provided a tangible glimpse of the fullback’s role in the Knights’ revamped pro-style offense.

“With [offensive coordinator Frank] Cignetti’s system, I can do anything,” Martinek said. “I can line up anywhere and do anything. That’s what I like about the system. Whatever they have in the gameplan for me, it’s fun to do.”

Martinek caught two passes for 17 yards against the Tar Heels and showed enough elusiveness as a check-down option to evade a defender for a first down.

But the Hopatcong, N.J., native sat out of contact drills in practice last week with an undisclosed injury.

He returned to practice in some capacity yesterday, he said, and head coach Greg Schiano is eager to have the veteran Martinek back.

“Joe is good. Joe can be really good if he would let it fly,” Schiano said. “One of the things is experience. Joe’s smart. He gets on the right guy. Joe is tough. He’s going to fight you until the end.”

While Martinek spent plenty of time in Piscataway as a pass protector, he needed to work on becoming a run blocker when he transitioned to fullback after last season.

Offseason surgery hampered his progress, and Martinek continues to adjust to the constant physicality demanded at the position.

Even Leonard, once Rutgers’ bell cow, converted to fullback once Ray Rice became the Knights’ primary back.

“Brian [Leonard] was the same way,” Schiano said. “When Brian made the move initially, he was on the right guy, but didn’t explode. But then as he got more experience, he got more sure of himself and it was bombs away. I anticipate that happening with Joe.”

During Cignetti’s two seasons at Pittsburgh, he utilized fullback Henry Hynoski as a pass-catching threat to complement receiver Jonathan Baldwin and the Panthers’ two-headed backfield.

Now with the New York Giants, Hynoski caught 25 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown as a senior.

Martinek watched tape of the Panthers offense once Cignetti took over as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator, specifically the fullback position, he said.

“Coming from his system, [Hynoski] being in the NFL and me being in the same system as him, it is encouraging,” Martinek said. “But I still need to do what I need to do.”

Hynoski, too, spent most of his time in a pass protection capacity while Cignetti utilized running backs Dion Lewis and Ray Graham as receivers on third downs.

Martinek impressed Schiano with his ability as a redshirt freshman to protect the quarterback, earning the former defensive back playing time on offense.

He finished the 2008 campaign with nearly 1,000 yards rushing.

“It’s huge. I can even say personally, Joe bailed me out once or twice [against UNC],” said sophomore center David Osei. “Especially in the pass game, he’s been there. It’s good having someone back there that will pick up everything.”

The week of rest paid dividends for Martinek.

He needs to be at 100 percent for Rutgers’ pro-style attack to live up to its name, especially if he plans to try another leap or two, which Martinek last attempted in high school, he said.

“My body’s getting hit every game and every play,” Martinek said. “You see a little fatigue, but my body’s feeling a lot better than it used to, especially now at this point in the year than it has in the past couple years. I feel really good right now.”

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