American Football: Can Rutgers football keep happy five proven halfbacks?

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Piscataway, New Jersey, USA – The good news in the Rutgers football backfield is this: There are five game-tested halfbacks.

The bad news in the Rutgers football backfield is this: There are five game-tested halfbacks.

Sorting through the depth behind – or possibly alongside – all-conference starter Paul James will be one of the main storylines of spring camp, and Rutgers coach Kyle Flood tipped his hand Friday when he listed rising sophomores Robert Martin and Josh Hicks ahead of veterans Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples.

“Really in terms of how they’re listed, it’s just by production, and it’s a starting point,” Flood said after releasing his offical two-deep. “All of them will play with the first-team and the second-team, and they’re going to get as many opportunities as we can have in practice when you only have really 10 offensive linemen that can go.”

All five halfbacks contributed between 300 and 500 rushing yards to a 2,000-yard ground attack last season, and the only one without a career 100-yard game (Peoples) finished with a team-best 447 yards. Peoples was the only healthy halfback last spring and was named the team’s Most Improved Offensive Player in spring 2013.

When James suffered a season-ending torn ACL in the fourth game of last season, Rutgers turned to Goodwin, who was experimenting at cornerback at the time, and Peoples. When Goodwin and Peoples stopped producing and then got injured during a midseason slide, Rutgers turned to Martin and Hicks.

“By the time we finished the bowl game we only had two (healthy),” said Flood, who saw Hicks earn MVP honors and Martin score two touchdowns in the Quick Lane Bowl, “so I see it as a group of players that are really talented – one of the more talented rooms in our building – and we’re fortunate to have the numbers that we do.”

The numbers even include James, who previously was said to be out for the spring but apparently made enough progress to warrant a reversal. He was seen March 11 with a brace on his left hand at Pro Day.

“I don’t know that I want to speak to ahead of schedule, behind schedule,” said Flood, who kept James off the depth chart completely. “I think P.J. looks great. I’m happy with where he’s at right now. He will be non-contact the entire spring.”

It is significant that Flood provided separation on the depth chart because he did not do that with the quarterbacks, naming Chris Laviano, Hayden Rettig and Giovanni Rescigno as co-starters despite Laviano being the only one with collegiate game experience. Rutgers also didn’t name a spring starter at tight end.

But is it realistic to keep all five players happy if simultaneously healthy?

“When you say keep them happy, I think they are happy because I think they’re team players,” Flood said. “I think they’re unselfish people, and I think they saw how last year played out and maybe some that might have had their doubts as to whether they were going to get an opportunity by the end of the season (were) starting and playing in a bowl game.”

Text credits – Staff Writer Ryan Dunleavy: rdunleav@gannett.com

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