THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Maroney reads a lot into chats with coach

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / December 19, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - They have met this season at least once a week. Nothing formal. Just a casual, one-on-one sitdown. Patriots coach Bill Belichick and running back Laurence Maroney.

“We watch film and talk a lot about the running game, his running style, reads, and so forth,’’ Belichick said.

They try to meet every Saturday. “Or Friday, depending on the time of the game on Sunday,’’ Maroney said.

Seldom, if ever, does Maroney feel it isn’t time well spent.

“I get a lot from it, because [No.] 1, I’m working with my head coach, who’s basically the play caller,’’ he said. “I get to understand how he wants me to run a play. Whether I made a good read or a bad read, he’ll still give his input on how I could’ve done better, or, ‘Yeah, you did a good job here.’

“Just hearing it from him and seeing the type of running style he wants, that he feels is going to work in this game, and me sitting there listening to him, it helps me out.’’

Maroney, it seems, has greatly benefited from his tutorials with Belichick.

“He’s just been talking about one cut and go, and run off what you see, and basically getting downhill and running physical,’’ Maroney said.

“Fundamentally,’’ Belichick explained, “that’s always what a runner wants to do - especially if it’s a powerful runner like Laurence - to try to drop your pads on contact. It protects the ball, it gives the defender less surface to hit on the tackle, and it gives you an opportunity to create more yards after contact. Those are fundamental things.’’

But Belichick has stressed more than just fundamentals with Maroney. He has given him tools on how to attack a defense.

“How to read individual plays or, by the way a defense is playing, their technique, their linemen or linebackers, and how to best read those,’’ Belichick said. “Those defensive players are pretty smart, too. They just don’t go out there and stand there like a bunch of statues. They’re not just a bunch of morons.

“They try to show you one thing and give you something else or they’re here to get you to go somewhere else, but somebody else is there - things like that. The more you can understand offensively what the defense is trying to do . . . the better you can attack it. Those are some of the things we talk about.’’

In the Patriots’ 20-10 victory last week over the Panthers, the Patriots seemed to recommit themselves to the running game, recording season highs with 40 rushes for 185 yards. Maroney led all rushers with 22 carries and 94 yards, both season highs for the fourth-year running back from the University of Minnesota.

Back in college, Maroney teamed with Marion Barber to become the first backfield tandem in NCAA history to gain 1,000 yards each in consecutive seasons (2003-04).

“Barber had more power and Maroney had more speed,’’ said former Minnesota coach Glen Mason. “It’s not to say that Barber was slow, but Maroney really had top-end speed. I really thought he was a physical runner.

“Initially, the people in the National Football League questioned whether he was a contact player, a tough runner, or whatever, because I had to field those questions. But I had to say that I never experienced that at Minnesota, and we practiced pretty physical, too. There were certain [contact] drills that we did all the time in practice during the season and he never shied away from it. I always thought he really liked the contact aspect of football.’’

When the Patriots face the Bills in frigid Buffalo tomorrow, Maroney knows the conditions may dictate a greater emphasis on the running game. And if that’s the case, then he says he’s committed to taking the physical approach to his job. No more stutter steps. No more cha-cha slides. Just get it and go.

“That’s one thing I’ve been doing the last six, seven games,’’ said Maroney, who has rushed for 654 yards on 166 carries this season and scored eight touchdowns. “I’ve just been focused on running hard, just running physical. No matter if it’s a 2-yard gain, just make it a physical 2-yard run.

“Eventually, one of two things is going to happen, and this is my perspective: either the defense is going to get tired of hitting you, or you’re going to get tired of getting hit. Now whichever one comes first is dependent on you, so I feel like if I just run physical from the beginning, then the defense is going to get more and more tired of hitting me.

“Then those 2- and 4-yard plays, when it comes to the third and fourth quarter, are eventually going to come out to 6-, 10-, 12-, 20-yard plays. That’s my whole mind-set: to come out and deliver the punch early and be physical early, so somebody’s going to get tired of getting hit early and it ain’t going to be me.’’

Maroney has come a long way to reach this point, where he can feel confident about shouldering the bulk of the work. His ability to run with authority stems largely from having overcome a shoulder injury that put him on injured reserve Oct. 20, 2008.

“I think he’s worked hard this year. He had a good offseason,’’ said Belichick. “He worked hard in camp and all through the year he’s been healthy, so those things are always positive.

“It’s just like everybody else. He’s done a lot of good things [and] there are other things he’s still working on to do better, like all of us. The biggest difference for him this year is he’s been out there. He’s been healthy. He’s been out there all the time, he’s gotten all the reps. He’s been able to execute all the things we’re doing and there’s no question that has helped him.’’

So, too, have the weekly chalk talks with the coach.

“Now I know what he’s looking for,’’ Maroney said. “And now he understands me as a runner and what I’ve seen out there and this is why I made this cut and this is why I didn’t take this cut.

“I think it’s a great thing because we both get a feel for each other and get a better understanding for each other.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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