He didn’t play. Even when the starting running back left the game for good in the first quarter due to injury, he didn’t play. Denver turned to Lance Ball, a second-year player undrafted out of Maryland.
He hasn’t played in the last eight games, the last six he wasn’t even activated.
He’s a former first round draft pick.
He’s Laurence Maroney.
In his fifth year in the league, Maroney has done practically nothing with his chance to live out the dream as a pro football player. Now on his second team, Maroney’s NFL career appears on the cusp of coming to an end.
Maroney is another example of a player with all the tools but didn’t put them to use. He was the 21st overall selection in the 2006 NFL draft by the New England Patriots.
After sharing the backfield with Marion Barber at the University of Minnesota for two years, Maroney shined as the featured back for the Gophers in 2005 and was viewed as a superior talent to Barber, who was selected in the fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys in 2005.
It didn’t take long for Maroney to flash his talents in New England. Splitting carries with Corey Dillon, Maroney gained 745 yards, averaged 4.3 yards per carry, and scored seven total touchdowns. Laurence was even better in his second year, going for 835 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, and six TDs.
The Patriots fan base was buzzing for more from Maroney. He was the best running back drafted by the Pats since Robert Edwards. Laurence had ideal size, quickness to elude defenders, speed to break long runs and hands when used as a receiver. All fans wanted Maroney to do was stay healthy and hit holes hard.
Injuries can’t be controlled, but how one runs can. If Maroney ran hard on every carry, attacking the line of scrimmage and exploding through holes, that would rationalize the nagging injuries that pock-marked his four full seasons in New England.
Instead Maroney hesitated on practically every carry. It didn’t matter if it was first and 10 from midfield or third and goal from the one, Laurence tip-toed. Even when the hole was wide open right in front of him, he danced before going forward.
It was maddening to watch because Maroney’s habit left a lot of yards on the field. Maroney seemingly was trying for a big gain on every carry, but the hesitations led to many negative yards when the play should had gained a yard or lost none.
Head coach Bill Belichick tried to reach him. During the 2009 season, Belichick reviewed film with Maroney and broke down Laurence’s performance every week. Belichick used quick hooks during games when Maroney made mistakes, whether it was losing yards on a carry or fumbling the ball, which Laurence did four times that season.
The extra attention did nothing to change Maroney’s habits or work ethic. In a radio interview before the 2010 season, RB Fred Taylor struggled to compliment Maroney during a word association segment:
"Laurence…um…good kid…um…he’s becoming more of a hard worker because he’s seeing what it takes. Misunderstood somewhat. But he has a good group of guys around him that’s gonna grab him and make sure he’s on the right track." – 9/3/10 to WEEI
Maroney never got on board. While BenJarvus Green-Ellis followed Kevin Faulk around, asking questions as if on a game show, Maroney did his own thing, so sure he had all the right answers. Laurence only did what he was asked, not what was required. Without the Patriot Way work ethic, Belichick tired of trying to guide a stubborn mule and shipped Maroney and a 2011 sixth round pick to Denver for a 2011 fourth round pick.
Sometimes trades work like a defibrillator—it shocks the player to life. It’s a stern message that they blew being a pro on the first attempt. It’s the wake-up call needed to make him get his act together because many players don’t get a second chance.
Taylor hoped for the best for Maroney:
"That light switch, you have to turn it on and start getting the picture and grasping that concept, and that’s what we’ve been trying to instill in him. Hopefully, that switch comes on, and he won’t need anybody to push him that extra step. He can do it when the doors are closed and nobody’s watching. That’s what it takes to be special in this league." – 9/17/10 to WEEI
Maroney remained in the dark. Being reunited with his former New England offensive coordinator didn’t open Maroney’s eyes. It took Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels just four games to see Laurence wouldn’t provide Denver with needed depth.
After four games with his new team, Maroney recorded his first DNP—did not play—against Oakland. Laurence was DNP’ed for a second consecutive week against San Francisco. He has been deactivated for the past six weeks.
For the season Maroney has 74 yards, averaging 2.1 yards per carry. To put that in perspective, in his first start of the season in Week 15, QB Tim Tebow rushed for 78 yards against the Raiders.
At some point you’d think Maroney would have an epiphany. Whether it was one-on-one work with the head coach, watching his peers pass him by—Barber has a Pro Bowl appearance; Maroney’s replacement in New England, Green-Ellis, needs 176 yards in two games for his first 1,000-yard season while Maroney had none—or being a former first round pick traded for just a fourth round selection (imagine, the Patriots had to sweeten the deal with a sixth round pick to convince the Broncos to recycle Laurence).
Nothing. Maroney thought talent alone would make him successful in the NFL and hasn’t put in the work necessary to be a pro athlete. Talent might get him a third chance somewhere as coaches always think they can get a player to perform. Maroney is yet to realize talent gets you in the league, hard work keeps you in the league.
Right now it looks like Maroney has two weeks left in the league.
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