All Maroney can do is to carry on

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / August 19, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - One of the criticisms of Patriots running back Laurence Maroney is that he can be indecisive.

But Maroney, who had his 2008 season truncated by a broken bone in his shoulder, couldn’t have been more decisive yesterday when asked whether he favored the shoulder at all last Thursday during the exhibition opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“No, not at all,’’ said Maroney, who got the start and rushed six times for 14 yards, playing in an NFL game for the first time since last Oct. 5 against San Francisco. “I wanted to go out there and play hard.

“Everybody has their own perspective about me. I was just trying to play hard and hopefully change people’s outlook on me and just go out there and run hard and make good, decisive reads and just take what I can get.’’

Another frequent criticism of Maroney has been his vision, but the much-maligned running back has no problem with his hearing. He has heard the critiques of his career, which is entering its fourth season. He runs too upright. He is too hesitant in hitting the hole. He can’t stay healthy. Those are not the type of perceptions that Maroney can outrun. He has to hit them head-on.

“You hear about it,’’ said Maroney. “It’s just that everybody wants to say hurt this and hurt that, fragile this. Unfortunately, I was dealt injuries my first two years in my career, so people are going to say what they want to say. All I can do is go out there and play.’’

That has been part of the problem for Maroney - he hasn’t always been able to play. He played in only three games last season after he injured the shoulder in Week 2 against the New York Jets and has yet to play a full 16-game slate in his career. He played in 14 games as rookie, sidelined by what was reported as a rib injury, and had offseason shoulder surgery. In 2007, he missed three games with a groin injury.

When Maroney has played, he has been productive, despite the perception of him as a player who hasn’t lived up to his billing as a 2006 first-round pick. On 388 career carries, he has rushed for 1,673 yards, an average of 4.3 yards per carry, with 12 touchdowns.

That’s a good season for an elite NFL running back like Adrian Peterson.

Maroney hasn’t proven to be that type of feature back thus far. But the Patriots have had a running back-by-committee approach the last few seasons, and that doesn’t figure to change with veteran Fred Taylor joining Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis in a crowded backfield.

The 24-year-old Maroney still believes he can be a feature back but is mature enough to realize he doesn’t have to be one in New England right now.

“I’m still young. I still got time,’’ said Maroney. “Learning from Fred is definitely a great thing. I’m just out here to do a job and that’s play football, so whether I start or don’t start, I’m going to be happy as long as I have a chance to go out there and have fun.’’

Maroney had fun returning to the field last Thursday. He admitted he was a little rusty in some of his reads, but he said that was expected in a game-type situation. He hopes to work on that tomorrow when the Patriots play their second exhibition game, facing the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium.

“I did get a feel for the game, but just when I got a feel for the game - you know how the preseason goes - they pull you back,’’ said Maroney. “It was fine just to be back out there and around the team.’’

Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Maroney for the work he did during the offseason and has done in training camp, saying he has improved in the passing game as a route runner and a pass protector.

“We know he can run the ball and also be involved in the [kickoff] return game,’’ said Belichick. “I think he’s had a productive camp. I think he’s ready to go.’’

Maroney knows he’ll be scrutinized again this season, but the one area in which he is going to judge himself is yards after contact. In the past, the Patriots have not always employed Maroney in goal-line and short-yardage situations, a sign they don’t believe he is their strongest YAC back.

It is worth noting, then, that Maroney picked up a third and 1 against the Eagles, going for 4 yards.

“If the line opens the hole and makes good blocks, I feel like you can put any back back there [and] if they open the hole wide enough, I think you can probably run in there and score,’’ said Maroney. “It’s what do I do after the first contact?’’

Taylor, 16th in the NFL all-time in rushing, had to deal with the injury-prone rap early in his career. He said he was “looking for big things’’ from Maroney this year.

Regardless of what other people think, Maroney is just happy to be back on the field with an opportunity to prove them wrong. Something he didn’t have last year.

“Most definitely. You have to appreciate this sport, because I felt like in the blink of an eye my whole career was over,’’ said Maroney. “It really let me know that that fast your career can be over, so you’ve just got to make the best of it while you’re here.’’

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