Heading into the 2006 NFL Draft, pundits from every corner chimed in on who the Patriots should select with the 21st overall selection. The popular choice was linebacker. Some suggested New England should go after a blue-chip defensive back. And what about a receiver? Not too many "Draft Experts" had the Patriots selecting a running back in the first round but as usual, Bill Belichick not only surprised everyone, he's also getting the last laugh.
After the first month of the season, Laurence Maroney is the leader to be this year's NFL Rookie of the Year. Through four games, the explosive running back out of Minnesota leads all rookie rushers with 294 yards, 3 touchdowns and a 4.9 yards per carry average.
Maroney had his coming out party against the Bengals in Week 4. After two solid performances against the Bills and Jets, Maroney ran over the Bengals for 125 yards on 15 carries, while scoring two touchdowns. He became the first Patriots rookie to score more than one touchdown in a game since Curtis Martin did it back in 1995.
"I'm always thinking of the end zone every time I touch the ball," Maroney said. "My eyes get really big, especially when we get inside the 10-yard line. I always try to keep things light and crack jokes when I'm in the huddle. I'll tell the offensive line, 'Let's go one and out, I'm tired of being in this huddle.'"
The play that made Maroney a fixture on ESPN highlight reels came in the third quarter against the Bengals. He took a delayed handoff and rumbled 25 yards for a touchdown. Maroney ran over two Bengals defenders and stiff-armed safety Madieu Williams at the 5-yard line. He capped off the impressive run by doing a Walter Payton-like shuffle on his way to the end zone.
It didn't take long for the rookie to figure out he has to keep the guys up front happy. After the game, Maroney gave all the credit to his offensive line for making the play happen.
"The line opened up a huge hole for me," Maroney said. "Anyone could have run through that. I got into the open field and had one guy to beat. I felt like I needed to make something happen."
Maroney gives the Patriots something their rushing attack has lacked since Martin was carrying the ball in New England: a game breaker at the running back position. In his first four games, Maroney has carried the ball 60 times. Ten of those 60 carries have resulted in runs of 10-yards or more. The explosive rookie now gives Tom Brady and the Patriots offense a big-play threat in the backfield, something they sorely missed last year.
"He's a great back. He's a playmaker," Bill Belichick said. "He's made some big plays for us running the ball but he's also caught some short passes. His blitz pickup is getting better. He's becoming a complete player."
|New England Patriots RB Laurence Maroney #39 pushes away Madieu Williams #40 of the Cincinnati Bengals Oct 1, 2006 (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)|
" It's kind of like big brother-little brother because when the bully gets tired, the rabbit comes in." - Rodney Harrison
At Minnesota, Maroney was known for his blazing speed and long runs. However, some experts questioned his toughness and whether or not he could take the pounding at the NFL level. Maroney hasn't only proven his critics wrong, he runs with a nasty streak similar to the player he's being groomed to replace: Corey Dillon.
"It's like a 1-2 punch," safety Rodney Harrison said regarding the tandem of Maroney and Dillon. "It's kind of like big brother-little brother because when the bully gets tired, the rabbit comes in."
When Harrison was asked about Maroney's explosiveness, the 13-year veteran simply said, "Wow. I mean, wow."
The day after the draft, Tom Brady received a phone call from Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Brady laughed on the other end of the phone after Manning told him, "You stole our running back." Now that that they've seen Maroney in action, no one in New England is asking why the Patriots didn't draft a linebacker or cornerback, that's for sure.
Maroney is the Dolphins' problem now. Miami has done a solid job defensively this season, entering this game ranked 7th in total defense. There's no question Maroney is going to have a bulls eye on his chest after his big game in Cincinnati. The Dolphins defense better hope they hit that bulls eye or there's a good possibility they will leave New England 1-4.