The Maroney Conundrum: Solving the Patriots' Running Back Enigma

Mike GleasonCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2009

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 03:  Laurence Maroney #39 of the New England Patriots looks on before the game against the New York Giants on September 3, 2009 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Perhaps the most frustrating thing to see in professional sports is talent unrealized.

For years, running back Laurence Maroney has befuddled Patriots fans; he shows glimpses of the gifted back drafted in the first round, but then either gets injured or succumbs to indecision.

Maroney has caught a lot of flak for his between-the-tackles running (or lack thereof). He simply can't seem to hit the holes in the line; he's always caught a yard back, waiting for something better to develop.

Quite frankly, I believe Maroney will never develop into the kind of bruising, workhorse back that NFL teams value so greatly. This does not mean, however, that he is useless to the Patriots offense.

I think one of the most frustrating things about the Maroney saga is the coaching staff's failure to adapt to him.

It's somewhat ironic that Bill Belichick, given his history of putting his players in the best position for their talents, exhibits a kind of selective blindness when it comes to Maroney.

Belichick, it seems, goes into each game with the intention of using Maroney as a between-the-tackles running back.

Maroney then goes out and either fails to produce or gets injured, and his reputation as a bust grows with the fanbase. It's the classic square-peg-in-a-round-hole problem.

The truth is, the team needs to adapt to Maroney's talents. Maroney, for example, is extremely gifted when given the ball in space: he's excellent with screens, and catches the ball out of the backfield very well. The Patriots should strive to put him in these positions whenever possible.

The Patriots, in fact, already have a back whose prototype Maroney could follow: Kevin Faulk. Faulk never became the 20-carry back the team once envisioned, but used his talents (receiving, returning kicks) to become one of the team's most consistent producers.

The team and the fans, though, thus far seem unwilling to let Maroney inhabit this role.

With Fred Taylor's absence, Maroney's prominence in the offense is sure to increase. I feel it would be a mistake, though, to use him as they were using Taylor. Giving Maroney a big workload in a game is an almost sure route to further injuries, helping no one.

Maroney may never fulfill all the promise he showed in college. If used properly, though, he could still be a dangerous weapon in the Pats' arsenal.