It's not hard to find critics of Laurence Maroney in New England. Despite being just 24 years old and entering only his fourth season in the league, Patriot fans everywhere are ready to toss him aside for aging vets Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris.
There is no denying that Maroney is injury-prone. He's missed 18 games so far in his young career due to injury (with 13 of those coming last season).
However, the reality of the situation is that starting running backs in the NFL will almost certainly go down with injuries during the season, it's usually just a matter of how many games they miss.
Fred Taylor has started all 16 games in a season just twice in his lengthy eleven year career; Morris has missed 13 games in the past two years alone. Clearly Maroney is not alone in his struggle to stay healthy; life as a running back in the NFL isn't always easy.
It was revealed recently that the reason for Maroney's placement on Injured Reserve last season was a broken bone in his shoulder.
According to the Boston Globe, he broke the bone in Week 2, missed Week 3 action against Miami, attempted to play the week after the Bye in SF but could not and was shut down for the year.
A broken shoulder bone is not likely to be a problem that will continue to bother Maroney; it should heal itself completely for 2009.
In his rookie season, torn rib cartilage was the culprit, as it kept him out of two games late in the season.
2007 saw Maroney suffer a groin injury that sidelined him for three games early in the year. These injuries are frustrating, but do little to affect the longer term status of Maroney's health.
So when Maroney is healthy, is he worthy of being a starting tailback on one of the top teams in the league? I say yes. On just 388 career carries, Laurence has 1,673 yards, good for an average of 4.3 ypc.
That number is equal to the career ypc averages of Willie Parker, Marion Barber and Stephen Jackson. Now of course, Maroney's 388 carries are a small sample size, but that's not all due completely to health.
Despite being the Patriots top back in 2007 and missing just three games to injury, he had just 185 carries in the Patriots pass-happy spread attack.
The league's leading rusher that season, LaDainian Tomlinson, had a whopping 315 carries. Maroney averaged just .2 yards less than Tomlinson that season, but ended with over 600 rushing yards less.
Am I saying these two were of equal talent in 2007? No, but I am saying that we will never know for sure of Maroney's true potential in the current offense the Patriots run...something I'm sure many fans (including myself) may not have a problem with.
There is one specific span of games that stick out in my memory and force me to stand by #39. Late in the perfect season of 2007, the Patriots found themselves in a dogfight with the hated New York Jets, a team that many expected the Pats to lay 50+ points on in revenge for "Spygate Tattling."
Fortunately for New York, Tom Brady went cold in that ballgame, completing only 51 percent of his passes for 140 yards and no touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Jets, however, they had no answer for Laurence Maroney.
Carrying the ball 20+ times for just the 2nd time all season, Maroney racked up 104 yards on the ground with a touchdown and kept the perfect season alive. The following week against a historically bad Dolphins team, Brady threw 2 INTs and completed only 54 percent of his passes.
While Maroney's performance was not as necessary as it was a week earlier, that didn't stop him from churning out a career-high 156 yards on the 'Phins.
The following week, in the final game of the season, Maroney put up unspectacular rushing yardage, but his two touchdowns were key in a 38-35 Patriots win.
His 122-yard performance against San Diego once again saved the season, as "Tom Terrific" threw three picks to the Charger secondary, while the Pats escaped with a 21-12 win.
New England got away from their running attack again in the Super Bowl, as Maroney had just 14 carries and was never given a chance to get things going.
Last year was marred by the shoulder injury that essentially erased all but one game of his season; so we were unable to see if Laurence's play would carry over.
Maroney now understands the importance of a big 2009 season. He is motivated by talk of his "softness", his soon-expiring contract and the recent of addition of Fred Taylor...but most importantly, he is healthy.
If he stays that way (a big if) and he's given enough carries this season; we may soon hear the same people who are screaming for his departure now, begging for a contract extension come next off-season.