Dillon & Maroney The Next Two-Headed Monster?

The talk of Patriots rookie minicamp is the upgrade Laurence Maroney adds to the team's offense. Beset by injury last season, Corey Dillon, Patrick Pass and Kevin Faulk were a shell of their former selves, barely managing a viable ground game. What a difference just a few short months can have on the team's potential for a solid rushing attack. Here's a look at the role newcomer Laurence Maroney can fit into with the Patriots ground game and why it should return to the dominant form of 2004.

The Patriots have 20 defensive backs on their roster, and almost as many offensive linemen. They are lousy with linebackers, and (over?)stocked with wide receivers and tight ends.

But when it comes to the tailback position, the Pats are keeping the numbers short and sweet. Rookie Laurence Maroney and veteran Corey Dillon both fully expect to be the main breadwinner in the Patriots backfield, and third-down back Kevin Faulk has filled an important role in New England for almost a decade. And that's that. Barring injury, those three will be getting 90 percent of the carries this fall.

So, is three company? Or a crowd?

Consider that when Maroney signs his deal, the trio will command more than $7 million in salary-cap room for the 2006 season. That's prime tailback money. Considering that last years 3.5 yard-per-carry average for Dillon, Faulk's specialist reputation and Maroney's youth, you have to wonder if the trio is capable of prime production.

It'll come down to coaching. If you could take the best parts of the three of them, which I'm sure Bill Belichick plans to do, a top tailback does emerge.

Putting together the three-headed monster:

Toughness: Dillon. Corey Dillon walks around with a permanent scowl on his face, and its particularly thick when he's fighting for an extra yard or two. Dillon plays hurt, runs as hard as anyone, and would happily run 40 times in a game if he were allowed.

Heart: Faulk. At 5-8, with a history of fumbling and good-not-spectacular speed, Faulk shouldn't be coming back for an eighth season in the NFL. But Faulk always has that crazed look in his eyes, like he's just going to will himself down the field. He's made some very big plays for the Patriots, and unless his projected salary number of $2.6 million prices him out of a job, hell make more.

Goal line: Dillon. For whatever reason, the Bengals made a habit of yanking Dillon at the goal line one of the many reasons he was among the most unhappy athletes in recent memory while in Cincy. But the Patriots, who are unquestionably the best in the league down inside the five, love going with Dillon. He's had 12 TDs each of the last two seasons.

Speed: Maroney. Faulk can still hit the hole in a hurry, but Maroney brings 4.47 speed that Dillon lacked in his prime. He's a big-play runner that scouts feel plays faster than his 40 time, and brings a new dimension to the Patriots Belichick has never had a big, fast, blue-chip running back to work with.

Splitting the carries should be an easy sell for two of the three running backs. Maroney has said he enjoyed sharing the tailback role while playing alongside Gary Russell and Marion Barber at Minnesota, and Faulk has always been a secondary guy.

Dillon fumed in his final season with Cincinnati when he had to share time with Rudi Johnson. But he has been generally accepting of any role he's been asked to fill in New England, and will surely keep his frustrations private. The Patriots took a chance on him, and he has showed how fiercely loyal he can be with a good franchise.

So it could be the perfect situation for the Patriots. Then again, everything could be perfect in the middle of May.

NOTES

The Colts are enjoying the Adam Vinatieri era. According to the Indianapolis media, he's been a workout regular and unit leader not something that was ever said about exiled Mike Vanderjagt. "But he's just fit in to the group really well and he's going to be a pleasure, really," Tony Dungy told reporters. … David Givens is injured and hasn't gotten a chance to get on the field for minicamp in Tennessee. … The first full-squad minicamp at Gillette Stadium is set for June 13-14. & Reserve receiver Rich Musinski led the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe in receptions (22) and touchdowns (four).

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