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Patriots notebook

No chances for Maroney

Coach says absence was not by design

Brandon Tate put the special in special teams by averaging 54.7 yards in three kickoff returns against the Rams Thursday night. Brandon Tate put the special in special teams by averaging 54.7 yards in three kickoff returns against the Rams Thursday night. (Elsa/Getty Images)
By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / August 28, 2010

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Without the time, the plays or the ball Thursday night, the Patriots offense couldn’t explore many options against the Rams in their 36-35 loss.

As a result, some players, most notably running back Laurence Maroney, didn’t get to play, according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick. For the second consecutive week, Maroney didn’t have a carry in an exhibition game. That was not by design, just a lack of opportunity, Belichick said.

Maroney is entering his fifth NFL season and from all the coach has seen from the 25-year-old in practice, he is a player who can “absolutely’’ help the Patriots in the regular season.

At the end of last season, Maroney’s carries lessened after he fumbled four times in seven games. They were the most fumbles in his career and he paid for the mistakes. Maroney, who had five carries for 22 yards against Jacksonville in Week 16, was inactive in the final regular-season game against Houston. He only had one carry in the wild-card loss to Baltimore.

Since then, Maroney has attributed his fumble troubles to mental laziness and declared he would do everything to fix that. But he hasn’t been seen much in the exhibition games. Belichick publicly supports Maroney. Last week, he said Maroney continues to work hard and is in good condition. And he has “improved daily because he’s been out there and he’s been able to get to work.’’

But he has not been on the field in the games. The Patriots running backs are on a rotation. The only player returning from last season to have fewer carries than Maroney is Kevin Faulk, who has three.

On Thursday, the Rams won the time-of-possession battle with 43 minutes 46 seconds. The Patriots had possession for 16:14. Not much came from the running game in general as BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Sammy Morris split 10 of the Patriots’ 11 carries. Faulk logged the other carry. Maroney and Fred Taylor did not take a snap.

Taylor is in his 13th season and last week rushed 11 times for 54 yards and one touchdown against Atlanta.

“We anticipated playing all the players in the game, [but] we had so few plays on offense, we just weren’t able to do it,’’ Belichick said. “I think he does need to play. I think all players need to play in the preseason. I think it’s beneficial to all of them. When you’re a one-back offense, you can only have one in there at a time. It’s like quarterbacks. We’d like to have played all three quarterbacks, too, but we never had the ball. There were no plays to run.’’

In Maroney’s only real action, he had eight carries for 30 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints. Overall, the Patriots ran the ball 35 times for 125 yards. Patience seems to be key in a group that is loaded with backs.

Just how much can be read into an exhibition game remains to be seen.

“I think we have a lot of backs and we are trying to get everyone some work,’’ said Morris. “It’s preseason and it’s tough. We are just trying different things.’’

Brace injured
Patriots defensive lineman Ron Brace had an MRI on his right ankle yesterday. He limped off the field in the fourth quarter. Brace had seven tackles and one sack against the Rams. It was his second game after he rejoined the team after passing his physical before the team left for Atlanta.

He is not the only player the Patriots will keep an eye on this week. Safety Brandon Meriweather left the game with a leg injury, but there was no update on his condition. Belichick said there were a “few bumps and bruises from the game. We’re trying to sort that out and see how everybody is there.’’

Belichick didn’t give any more details when pressed on the seriousness of the bumps and bruises. “Sometimes things look big and they turn out to be not that significant. And then other times you see things that look like they’re not that significant and they turn out to be more than that. So I wouldn’t want to try to speculate on what a medical diagnosis will or won’t be.’’

Glimpse at Tate
One kickoff return for a touchdown doesn’t have Belichick jumping for joy. Brandon Tate’s 97-yard TD Thursday was a glimpse of what the second-year player can bring after a record-setting college career as a kick and punt return.

Tate’s three kick returns averaged 54.7 yards. It is one area the Patriots would like to see more improvement. But Belichick said it is too early to tell where the unit is overall.

“We’ve had our moments,’’ said Belichick. “At times [the kick returns have] been good. At other times not so good. They’ve been a little inconsistent. The same thing with the punt returns. There weren’t many returns of any kind last week, so it’s kind of hard to talk about the Atlanta game. We had some production on the punt return against New Orleans and the kickoff return, but we’ve also had some not so good ones, so we’re trying to develop a little more consistency.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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