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Starter or not, Maroney vows to carry on

By Robert Mays
Globe Correspondent / August 25, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Despite having just eight carries in two preseason games, none with the first-team offense, Laurence Maroney was still quick to joke yesterday.

As reporters huddled around the Patriots’ fifth-year running back, Maroney urged the questioning to begin.

“Come on,’’ he said. “Who’s got the first question, the genius question?’’

Might you be starting Thursday?

“I don’t know,’’ Maroney said. “This is one of those coach’s decisions. I’m going to be prepared for the game on Thursday, but as far as who’s starting, we really won’t know until game time.’’

Who will join Maroney when he steps into the huddle in tomorrow night’s game against the Rams is just the latest uncertainty about the role the Patriots’ 2006 first-round draft pick will have this season. Even with the questions about Maroney’s production, he is still adamant that he has the ability to be the player the Patriots envisioned when they selected him out of Minnesota five seasons ago.

“We’ve got a lot of critics out here still,’’ Maroney said. “We’ve got a lot of naysayers, a lot of doubters: ‘This has got to be Maroney’s best year,’ or, ‘He’s got to come out here and show it.’

“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of critics out there still, and I laugh at it. I’m just going to go out there and play hard and show everybody why they took me first round.’’

Last season, Maroney had a career-high 194 carries, but his 757 rushing yards left him with just 3.9 yards per attempt, the lowest average for any season in which he had at least 30 carries. The bigger issue, however, was Maroney’s inability to hang onto the ball in the second half of the season.

In his final seven games of the regular season (Maroney did not play in Week 17 against Houston), he fumbled four times.

Two weeks ago, Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears was asked about Maroney’s ball-security issues, and he said he didn’t envision them carrying over.

“I think I’ll answer it this way,’’ Fears said. “We’re not going to have that problem this year, so that is where we’re going to leave it.’’

Along with working on his fumbling problem, Maroney made it a point to arrive at camp this year in good condition.

“I had to come into camp in shape,’’ Maroney said. “There’s a lot of us. Got to come in better than the next.’’

The “us’’ Maroney is referring to is the stable of running backs the Patriots currently employ. Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis all will vie for carries.

“It’s definitely a lot,’’ Maroney said. “And at the same time, it’s a lot of different types of backs.

“We all can bring something different to the table. When you put us together, you’ve got a winning combination. So as much as you want to get the ball 20 times a game, some games you know it ain’t going to be that type of game.’’

For Maroney, that type of game has been rare. He has carried the ball more than 20 times in a game just six times in his professional career. But even though he hasn’t handled the workload normally prescribed for first-round running backs, he says his ability to be that type of back is still there.

“I know how good I am,’’ Maroney said. “I know the type of player I am and how much help I can bring to the team. It’s just going out there and getting the coaches to believe the same thing and proving it to them on an everyday process.

“For the people that have watched my career in these four or five years, I’ve had some great times and I’ve had some low times. The talent has definitely shown itself, and it’s there, but it’s just being more consistent with it.’’

Maroney said the best is yet to come in his young career, and he has grown in maturity and focus since coming into the league. Fears agreed, noting that Maroney became a father before last season and has taken on the responsibility that comes with that.

“It’s been fun, just like your own son, watching him mature and deal with those issues,’’ Fears said.

For now, with two preseason games remaining, Maroney said he isn’t going to become frustrated over his carries.

“I don’t really trip off of it,’’ Maroney said. “I was always told, ‘You can’t cry over spilled milk.’ So if that’s where I’m going to be, that’s where I’m going to be. And I’m going to go shine right there. When they want to put me back with the ones, just keep doing it.’’

Robert Mays can be reached at rmays@globe.com.

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