FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — No one wants to be tagged with an infamous label. New England Patriots running back Laurence Maroney, whether it’s fair or not, has heard the criticism about his durability, and he wants nothing more than to shed the notion that he’s soft or injury prone.
Maroney has missed 18 of 48 regular-season games through the first three seasons of his career, and a broken shoulder kept him out of the final 13 games in 2008 — a season in which Maroney could have broken out after quarterback Tom Brady missed the year with a knee injury. The 21st pick in the 2006 draft is back in camp at Gillette Stadium and hoping to reestablish himself as a premier back in the Patriots’ offense.
“I feel like I’ve got to help the team out more, so this whole offseason, I’ve just been working on getting healthy so I can stay on the field, because I had a couple games where I did good and a couple games where I did bad,” Maroney said. “I know how good I can be for the team and what I can do. I’ve got to stay healthy and stay consistent, and that’s all I’ve been working on is just being productive.”
The injuries have undoubtedly worn on Maroney. He has suffered three separate injuries in his first three seasons that have caused him to miss game action — reportedly torn rib cartilage in 2006 and a groin injury in 2007 — and he also had shoulder surgery prior to the 2007 season that led him to wear a red non-contact jersey throughout training camp.
He is clearly not thrilled with his limited attendance rate, especially since he never suffered any serious setbacks prior to the NFL. Still, the always-confident University of Minnesota product is using these speed bumps as added motivation.
“I’m still going to play my game at the end of the day,” Maroney said. “This is football. Injuries are going to happen. It’s not like I go out here every day saying, ‘Hey, I want to get hurt today. I want to miss this season.’ Things happen. You’ve got to play through them. You’ve got to live with it.
“If you call me fragile, hey, it happens. It’s just one of those things that I’ve got to work harder.”
The transition into this training camp has been soothed by running back Fred Taylor, who signed with New England in the offseason after spending his first 11 seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Considered one of the great professionals, mentors and teammates in the league, Taylor understands Maroney’s situation as well as anyone. After all, Taylor has shaken the label of “Fragile Fred” because of his questioned durability — Taylor missed 24 of 64 regular-season games in his first four seasons but has only missed 12 in the last seven years.
“From his perspective, he’s been through a lot,” Maroney said of Taylor. “He’s been through his fair share of injuries. [He can relay] how he took it, how he made it out of it, how he kept everything positive, and [he] is still labeled as one of the greatest backs to ever play the game.”
Taylor hasn’t just helped Maroney in that area. The 33-year-old is working with Maroney on gap vision and attack techniques to perfect his vision and instincts, with the idea of improving his ability to break long runs.
While Taylor has used the pay-it-forward mentality — a way of thanking running back James Stewart for mentoring him as a rookie in 1996 — he has also taken a liking to Maroney, who has been receptive to Taylor’s advice, according to the elder back. Maybe — just maybe — Maroney’s career could face a similar upswing to that of Taylor’s.
Taylor thinks it could.
“[Maroney is a] young guy who is definitely passionate about playing, [and he] reminds me of myself a little bit when I was younger, having to fight through the injuries,” Taylor said. “But that’s a part of the game. He is definitely fighting. He is trying to go out there and make a name for himself. He’s a good running back, a very good running back. Unfortunately, he’s had to endure through the bumps and bruises. If he keeps fighting back, he’ll be OK.”
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