Can Laurence Maroney and his surgically repaired shoulder carry the Patriots' rushing load in 2007? That's been one of the biggest questions surrounding Bill Belichick's well hyped offense this offseason, a unit that obviously sports Tom Brady and a well re-stocked roster of aerial weapons.
The question continued into training camp as Maroney began his sophomore season wearing a red, non-contact practice jersey for the first three-plus weeks of summer practice. But last week there were finally some answers to go with the questions surrounding Maroney and the New England running game.
Maroney ditched the red jersey for practice and then made his preseason debut last Friday night in Carolina. The former first-round pick got plenty of early chances to test his health and show his stuff as Belichick scripted his offense's plays to include all ground work in the early going. Maroney got the ball on each of New England's first seven offensive plays and carried it a total of 15 times on the 19 snaps he played over the first quarter-plus of action in the 24-7 win over the Panthers.
While his numbers weren't exactly scintillating — 15 carries for 58 yards (3.9 avg.) — just getting back on the field and showing he could take a hit was as important as the yardage he picked up in his first playing time of the summer.
"I ain't going to lie, the first series I felt kind of rusty," an all-smiles Maroney said afterwards. "I just wanted to know how the first hit was going to feel on my shoulder. That whole first series I felt uncomfortable. I felt like, ‘Wow, I have to get back into it. Am I making the right read? Am I running the ball right? Do I need to get lower?'
"After that I got my jitterbugs out of the way and everything started coming back to me. It's like riding a bike — you don't ever forget, you just have to get back on and just start riding again."
In his work Maroney showed the instinctive cuts, deceptive power and impressive quickness that came in flashes a year ago and left Patriots fans wanting more. In fact, in his first contact of the year Maroney himself felt like he was just getting warmed up when his night ended at Bank of America Stadium.
"When they took me out I was like, ‘Wow, I was just getting rolling,'" Maroney said. "But I showed them what I had to do. So I can't wait ‘til the next game. That's what I'm waiting for."
That's music to Patriots fans' ears. With Corey Dillon on a golf course somewhere, and Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk less than perfect backup options, Maroney will have to shoulder the bulk load if the Patriots are to have a balanced offensive attack this fall. He showed flashes of lead-back ability a year ago as a rookie splitting time with the veteran. He showed more flashes of that last Friday in Carolina. But more importantly he showed he's healthy enough to give, and take, hits. Now he's ready to worry about his production moving forward and not his health.
"Whatever they need me to do," Maroney concluded, "I'm going to be out there doing it."
Can Maroney Shoulder the Load?
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