boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Maroney set for top billing

Laurence Maroney was ready for his close-up while filming a Reebok commercial yesterday. (MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF)

He'll never be confused with Sir Laurence Olivier, but Laurence Maroney was the star yesterday as he filmed a commercial for Reebok and Modell's Sporting Goods at Madison Park High School in Roxbury.

"I just wanted to go with it and see how it would be," Maroney said. "I always told myself I wanted to go to Hollywood someday. This is my first shot at it."

The question is, will Maroney be able to play a leading role in the Patriots backfield next season?

The second-year running back had offseason shoulder surgery, and his participation in last week's mandatory minicamp was limited. Take Maroney out of the picture and suddenly those Super Bowl plans don't look so certain no matter who is lined up at wide receiver.

Maroney preemptively stiff-armed any direct questions about the status of his shoulder, but he did say he feels he'll be physically capable of shouldering an increased workload with the de parture of Corey Dillon.

"Yeah, most definitely," he said. "We've got a lot of good players on this team and I still don't feel like with Corey being gone and me moving up to the starting running back that the pressure is going to be on me because we still have 10 other people on this [offense] that are going to have to carry their load. I'm going to have to carry my part and we're all going to come together and put it together as a team effort."

Maroney said he was able to benefit by taking mental reps during minicamp, but was noncommittal about taking real ones by the start of training camp July 27. "Everything is looking on pace to me," he said. "I don't have a projection. I'll be out there, hopefully, when I get out there, but until then, I'm going to work hard every day to get better."

One possible indication that Maroney's shoulder is progressing is that the Patriots have not had recent contact with free agent Chris Brown, the best available running back. Agent Wynn Silberman said he hadn't spoken with the Patriots about his client in a few weeks. A return to the Tennessee Titans remains a strong possibility for Brown, although Chicago, Green Bay, Miami, and Indianapolis have shown interest.

Normally, durability would not be a concern for a running back who played in 14 games and was the NFL's third-leading rookie rusher, as Maroney was. Maroney missed two games after he was injured in the first quarter of a 28-21 victory over the Detroit Lions Dec. 3. He returned for the final two games of the regular season and finished with 745 yards on 175 carries and seven touchdowns (six rushing).

But after averaging 4.3 yards a carry during the regular season, Maroney ground to a halt in the playoffs. He rushed 31 times for 87 yards, a 2.8-yard average, and zero touchdowns. Against San Diego and Indianapolis, he rushed a total of 13 times for 18 yards.

"It was a little rough, but it be like that sometimes," said Maroney.

Dillon picked up some of the slack in the playoffs, but he won't be around next season to play a supporting role or mentor Maroney, who said Dillon taught him how to read defenses and not try to hit the home run all the time, which Maroney admitted was his modus operandi in college.

"I can't tell you how the team or everybody else feels about Corey, but I know me, personally, he was a good mentor, a good friend," said Maroney. "My first year, he made it a lot easier for me to transition. His presence is going to be greatly missed by me."

So will Dillon's team-high totals of 812 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns.

However, as the 22-year-old Maroney pointed out, the Patriots still have a stable of veteran backs in Heath Evans, Kevin Faulk, and Sammy Morris, who joined the team from Miami as a free agent.

Maroney said Morris is "definitely a good running back" and that Evans and Faulk mean a lot to the team.

"Heath, playing the fullback role and on special teams, he's been great for us," said Maroney. "Kevin, he's been the premier third-down guy. I don't feel like there is any other guy better than that guy at the position, and he's definitely a good guy to learn from also.

"Just having those guys around and just having their knowledge -- because that's a lot of years there put together, him, Heath, and Sammy -- I'm still learning from them."

For the Patriots offense, the only bigger question mark than Maroney's health is how Randy Moss will fit in.

"People do change, and what he's shown to this program so far is no signs of arrogance and no signs of being a problem," said Maroney. "He's just out there working hard like everybody else trying to get better."

Off the field, Maroney, who stayed in the area during the offseason, is still adjusting to being recognized more and more by fans. The commercial he was filming only figures to increase that.

"Hopefully," he said with his trademark smile. "You know, it's all good."

If Maroney is healthy, it could be.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES