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Analysis of Laurence Maroney deal

09.14.10 at 4:50 pm ET
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Laurence Maroney's stint with the Patriots came to an end Tuesday when the former first-round pick was dealt to the Broncos. (AP)

Laurence Maroney's stint with the Patriots came to an end Tuesday when the former first-round pick was dealt to the Broncos. (AP)

In his four seasons with the Patriots, few players sparked more debate than Laurence Maroney.

There was no lukewarm feeling toward the running back, who was dealt to Denver for a 2011 draft pick on Tuesday afternoon. Supporters of the first-round pick out of Minnesota were convinced that if he only got the carries, he would be a consistent 1,000-yard presence, while his critics saw a player who danced before he hit the line and shied away from contact.

To be fair, when he was healthy and did get the carries, Maroney — who was in the last year of his rookie contract — gave the New England running game a real bite. He split time with Corey Dillon in 2006 as a rookie, but took over the starters’ role in 2007, and finished with a career-best 835 rushing yards. That season, he had five games where he topped 100 yards, including a 156-yard performance in a December win over the Dolphins and back-to-back 122-yard performances in the playoffs.

But he suffered a shoulder injury in September 2008, and would never reach the same heights with the Patriots. He finished that season on injured reserve, and in 2009, he started out as part of a running back-by-committee, sharing carries with veterans Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris. He was able to break out on occasion, including a season-high 123 yards in an October rout of Tennessee.

However, he was getting fewer and fewer carries as the season went on. The first real sign Maroney was on the outs with the team first popped up last season when Maroney had four bad fumbles, with many of them coming in the red zone (the ones against Indianapolis and Jacksonville were especially ill-timed). It was something new for Maroney, who, to that point, had been pretty good when it came to taking care of the ball — he fumbled just once in his rookie season, didn’t turn the ball over in 2007 and 2008. By the time the end of the season rolled around, Maroney was on the outside looking in. He saw just six total carries over the Patriots final three games, including just one carry in their playoff loss to Baltimore.

This past preseason, it appeared to be more of the same when the Patriots leaned heavily on almost every other member of their running back corps except for Maroney. He got eight carries in the preseason opener against the Saints. He dressed but did not play for the second and third preseason game, and saw limited action in the preseason finale, a clear sign he had slipped down the depth chart In addition, he was an inactive for the season opener against the Bengals last Sunday.

Going forward, the Patriots will rely heavily on Taylor and Morris, two veterans who have struggled to steer clear of injuries. (Both missed sizable chunks of last season because of injury.) Expect more from youngster BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who had been used sparingly as of late because of depth at the position. In addition, it wouldn’t be surprising to see veteran third-down back Kevin Faulk get some more carries in a traditional offensive set.

As for Maroney — who finishes with 2,430 yards in just over four seasons with New England — he will be reunited with former Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who took over the Broncos before the start of last season and brought a few former Patriots with him, including Jabar Gaffney and Lonie Paxton. The Denver backfield has been hit hard by injury since the start of training camp — the Broncos lost LenDale White to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in the preseason finale, and Knowshon Moreno, who missed the preseason with a hamstring injury, and Correll Buckhalter combined for 65 yards on the ground Sunday for Denver.

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