FOXBORO, Mass. — Midway through the 2009 season, Patriots running back Laurence Maroney was enjoying one of the highest points of his career. By the end of the season, though, he was down at the bottom.
Maroney had a career-best six-game scoring streak in which he amassed 420 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, but he also developed a crippling fumbling issue. The 2006 first-rounder coughed up the ball four times last season, including twice on the goal line.
He never saw the field against Jacksonville in Week 16 after his second goal-line giveaway, and he was inactive in Week 17 against Houston. Maroney’s one carry in the Pats’ playoff loss to Baltimore was his sole touch in the Patriots’ final 11 quarters, and it was clear that head coach Bill Belichick had lost faith in Maroney.
“I feel like I was close,” Maroney said of last season. “I still feel I had a little ways to go last year, but I felt like I was closer than the years before. I always try to improve on prior years. Last year was cool, so now I just want to get better.”
As always, Maroney said he is trying to work on perfecting his patience and decisiveness, which is the burden and expectation carried by running backs across the league. He’s got to do a better job of reading his blocks from the backfield and then slicing through the hole created by his offensive line.
“Just trusting in your line a little bit more and really knowing your blocking schemes, knowing to set your linemen up and help your linemen help you,” Maroney said of what he hopes to improve on. “Learning the run schemes more, learning who the linemen have to block and help set up their block, make their blocks a lot easier. You’ve got to be a little patient to do that, and once you see the hole, explode through it.”
This is the last season of Maroney’s rookie contract, and his spot on the roster is anything but secure in 2010. He’s had plenty of opportunities to prove himself, but injuries, indecisiveness and fumbling woes have kept him from breaking through. His talent and athletic ability are there, but he’s got to develop the mental aspect to put it all together.
With Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk on the roster, it’s going to be near-impossible for Maroney to get that chance without earning it. It’s a challenge, however, that Maroney sounds like he is willing to face head on.
“It’s definitely difficult [to get reps] when you’ve definitely got a lot of great running backs in the backfield,” Maroney said. “But I think this is the time when you separate yourself from the pack.”