Rutgers' Joe Martinek: Don't Tell Him What He Can't Do!

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Rutgers' Joe Martinek: Don't Tell Him What He Can't Do!
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

"Don’t tell me what I can’t do!”

For you LOST fans out there, the phrase should bring you back to the early years when the underdog-turned hero-turned smoke monster John Locke would say it whenever he was doubted.

When reflecting on Joe Martinek’s time on the banks to date, the phrase certainly applies.

The projected 2010 starting running back for Rutgers was not even recruited to the position, as the coaching staff sought to place Martinek in the defensive backfield.

But as time wore on and team needs shifted, Martinek was flipped to offense.

When given the opportunity to earn his spot as a running back, there was doubt he could make the depth chart in a meaningful way, even as New Jersey’s all time leading rusher in high school.

Originally slotted behind Kordell Young, Mason Robinson, and Jourdan Brooks (all who were believed to be more dynamic runners than Joe), finding the carries for Martinek between this group seemed like a daunting task.

But when his redshirt freshman year was said and done, he worked his way into the mix and finished third on the team in rushing attempts and first in yards-per-carry.

Clearly, Martinek made the most of his time and started proving his doubters wrong.

Primarily a straight-ahead runner with limited lateral mobility, Joe entered his sophomore year surrounded by questions about his ability to carry a heavier load and build on the productive freshman year he put together.

Sure enough, as injuries and ineffectiveness claimed others, Martinek more than doubled his workload in 2009 and was given the football over 200 times, scoring 9 touchdowns in the process.

In addition, he eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark (including postseason): an unexpected feat for a defensive back recruit to achieve.

On paper, Martinek’s statistics from his first two seasons are solid: 1,450 yards, 5.1 yards-per-carry, and 13 touchdowns.

He’s a grinder and, much like his predecessor Ray Rice, he gets stronger as games go on.

Statistics aside, Martinek hasn’t displayed the make-you-miss moves that most elite college running backs have in their repertoire, and they may be the only barriers standing in his way to becoming an elite back.

Sounds like another challenge for Joe from New Jersey.

But from Martinek himself, it’s one he’s already begun to tackle.

To date, a challenge or a shred of doubt has been all Martinek has needed to elevate his game to the next level, but there are several other reasons why Joe Martinek could be primed for a huge season in 2010.

Reason One: Trust and Commitment by Coach Schiano

Martinek was not a prized recruit out of high school, holding FBS offers from only Florida International and Vanderbilt, aside from Rutgers.

And if you told Greg Schiano in 2007 that Martinek, the 2-star prospect recruited to play safety, would be the projected starter in 2010, he may have thought something had gone terribly wrong.

But over the past two years, it has been clear Schiano has grown fond of Martinek and has rewarded his gradual success with more carries each year. Looking at the 2009 season alone, compare his carries to the next leading rusher on the Scarlet Knights:

Joe Martinek carries: 206

Next in line: 62 (Mohamed Sanu)

He was “the guy” in 2009, and recent history supports Schiano’s desire to have a “the guy” in the backfield (when available) and commit heavily to the run. (Over the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Brian Leonard and Ray Rice combined for 796 carries).

Martinek has proven himself enough to earn the majority of carries and take the load in 2010 if he continues to improve and build off of the 2009 season.

At this point, the starting job should be his to lose.

Reason Two: Spring Success

Spring statistics often get thrown out the window, but Martinek was one of the brighter spots of the Scarlet Knight offense this spring—which was without 60 percent of its offensive line.

A young group to begin with, Rutgers offensive line lost three projected starters to injury (Howard Barbieri, Desmond Wynn, and Antwan Lowery).

This meant that practice after practice and scrimmage after scrimmage, Martinek was running behind an uber-inexperienced group of guys and into the hands of a Greg Schiano defense.

But Martinek’s early struggles were wiped away after an impressive line during the Scarlet-White game in front of a record crowd of over 20,000 fans.

Jersey Joe finished the day with 116 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown.

Not that impressive, you say?

Well it is, considering the makeshift line Martinek was running behind and the defense he was running against.

Throughout the spring and in the initial scrimmages, the defense was dominating.

So for Martinek to rush for over 100 yards and a touchdown speaks one of two things:

1) The defense is overrated;or

2) Martinek is that much better.

Number two could be the right answer based on one play in particular: a 52 yard run he ripped in the first portion of the scrimmage.

And what was that about Martinek not having “make-you-miss” moves?

Well, safety Duron Harmon might argue otherwise, as Martinek burned him on a play which resulted in more than 10 extra yards.

Leaving Harmon in the dust is exactly what Joe will be looking to do against the Big East this fall, hoping the league will be as unsuspecting as Harmon was.

As for his competition?

Sophomore De’Antwan Williams and incoming freshman Casey Turner and Jawan Jamison will be nipping at Martinek’s heels, just as he was nearly three seasons ago.

Surely there are those who believe some of these young backs will challenge Joe right away and steal many of his carries—

But this is nothing new for Joe, and at this point, doubters are to be expected.

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