Laurence Maroney was one of four running backs selected in the first round of this year's draft. He was taken after the Saints' Reggie Bush and ahead of the Panthers' DeAngelo Williams and the Colts' Joseph Addai. Maroney said he and Williams became close during the draft and have remained friends since.
When asked if he followed the Saints rookie running back, Maroney replied, "Who?"
"I don't really pay attention to anyone else," Maroney said. "I can't worry about what they do. They're some great backs, but I try to focus on what I can do to help my team."
Maroney may have been drafted behind Bush but he's actually outshining the much-hyped Heisman Trophy winner. Entering Week 12, Maroney's 577 yards on the ground were second only to Addai's 618 among NFL rookies. He also led the league with a 29.7-yard kickoff return average.
While his explosiveness as a runner and kick returner has been a big asset to the Patriots, some questioned his ability to catch the ball coming out of college. Maroney had few chances to show off his receiving skills at the University of Minnesota.
"I always felt like I was decent in the passing game," Maroney said. "At Minnesota, running backs just weren't used in the passing game, so it didn't really look like we knew how to catch. Deep down inside, I knew I could catch the ball. Working with (Tom) Brady, I'm getting a lot better. They're using me more in the passing game, which is helping me and the team."
Unlike some first-year running backs, Maroney had the luxury of an established veteran being in New England when he arrived. Corey Dillon and the rookie have been splitting carries for most of the year. Because the NFL schedule is a lot longer than that of a college season, running backs tend to wear down over the second half of the year if they get most of the carries.
While Maroney admits the length of the NFL season is the biggest adjustment he's had to make, having Dillon around has helped him stay fresh.
"I feel good. I can't complain," Maroney said. "My body feels good. It's not like I took every rep. My legs feel good. The body gets tired here and there, but I'll be OK. It helps a lot when you are learning from a good back. I think it would have been a lot harder if I was just thrown into the fire. But I've been eased in there and I've had good backs to learn from. They're a good group of guys."
When Maroney was drafted he was labeled "the running back of the future." Well, the future is now for Maroney and the Patriots. If the team goes deep into the playoffs, he'll play a big part in its postseason success.