EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Robert Martin of Rutgers might be one of the biggest surprises in the New York Giants' training camp.
No one expected much from the running back when the team reported in the last week of July. The 22-year-old from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, didn't start for the Scarlet Knights last season and had to attend a tryout after the draft to get an invite to camp.
Less than three weeks into camp, Martin has opened some eyes. He has continually broken some big runs during the practices. He did it again on Thursday night in the second half of the preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns, picking up 39 yards on five carries with a long run of 19 yards.
The only Giant who did better was No. 2 overall draft pick Saquon Barkley, who had 43 yards on five carries, including a game-opening 39-yard run.
"I know what I am bringing to the team," Martin said Sunday after practice. "I had a rocky college experience, different coaches, different running backs coaches, a lot of ups and downs. It helped me. It formed my character, but at the end of the day I always knew I could play football. Given the chance and opportunity, playing with the best of the best in the NFL, I would be able to show my talent."
Martin says he put in a lot of work to get to this point. While taking courses this spring, he worked on his pass routes and running back drills. He also did a lot of film preparation, watching the Vikings' offense that new Giants coach Pat Shurmur was bringing to the Meadowlands.
"When I got up here I just wanted to show what I could do," Martin said.
The road to football has never been simple for Martin. His mother, Deborah Hill, never wanted him to play. His brother, Steven Smith, had to persuade her to let him try after he excelled on the playgrounds.
He eventually made it to Rutgers and carried 448 times for 2,256 yards and 18 touchdowns, finishing 10th in school history for career yards rushing. His senior year was disappointing because he was the No. 2 back to graduate transfer Gus Edwards of Miami. Martin gained 434 yards on 99 carries with three touchdowns.
The Giants still gave him a tryout, and so far he was made the most of it, competing against Barkley, veteran Jonathan Stewart and second-year backs Wayne Gallman, Shane Smith and Jalen Simmons.
"I think they all had their moments of good play," Shurmur said of his running backs in the 20-10 loss to the Browns. "I thought Stewart didn't have as many snaps as the others. I thought Gallman had a couple nice runs. I think they all kind of stood out in my mind in making a play or two here, but Jalen did a good job. There were some nice hard runs in there, and then we've seen Rob obviously, we've seen him in practice have some good runs and he's a hard physical runner and it showed up in the game."
NOTES: Defensive coordinator James Bettcher was in Indiana this weekend to attend services for his mother, who died last week. He will rejoin the team Tuesday in Detroit for practices with the Lions. Secondary coach Lou Anarumo called the plays for the defense Sunday. ... Giants T Nate Solder is ready to go against the Lions and their new coach, Matt Patricia, who was the Patriots' defensive coordinator when Solder was in New England. "I think they will expose some things we need to work on, it will show some of the areas we are strong in," Solder said. ... Veteran LB Connor Barwin was nicked in the preseason opener and did not practice. S Darian Thompson also was out with a hamstring injury.
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