The easy part is over.
Then again, easy is a relative term.
"It was easy," Patriots RB Laurence Maroney declared when asked how June's minicamp was. A short pause followed before Maroney realized he needed to clarify his statement.
"Alright, it wasn't easy, but it's the easiest we're gonna get until training camp starts. I don't care how in shape you are, how prepared you think you are, you can never be prepared for training camp."
]()In minicamp, the only padding the players wear are their helmets, so there is no contact during those sessions. The emphasis is more on learning new concepts and schemes and keeping up with their physical conditioning.
Over the next six weeks – the summertime lull that precedes the grinding two-a-day practices of full-contact training camp – Maroney and the rest of his New England teammates will have to do all they can to stay in shape.
"Oh, man, keep working," Maroney emphasized. "Can't go home and let everything go that I've been working hard on this whole offseason. I've got a couple of buddies from St. Louis who got drafted this year, so we're all going to work out together, so I can keep my strength up for the season."
Keeping his strength and health up will certainly be a priority for the 5-11, 220-pound back, who's suffered some frustrating injuries in his first two seasons with the Patriots. His best performances, however, came late last season, as he ended the year with four 100-yard rushing games in the team's final six contests (including the playoffs). Maroney appeared the healthiest and most confident of his still-developing pro career.
"I think I made some good strides," he said in answer to a self-assessment question. "I started building my foundation last year, over the last couple of games. I'm trying to build off those and have good games every game this season. I've had a full offseason to get better, stronger, faster."
And unlike last offseason, when he was rehabbing a shoulder that needed surgery, Maroney has been taking part fully in New England's offseason strength and conditioning program. And he's been doing so pain- and injury-free.
"That's the best, because I don't have to stay around too long [and rehab]. I can go back home," Maroney laughed.
He's doing the joking now, but last summer, his teammates had some good-natured fun at his expense. For most of training camp, Maroney was required to wear a red (no-contact) jersey during practices. To say the least, he's grateful he won't have to don that conspicuous piece of clothing this summer.
]()"It's better because you don't get those little joking comments from your teammates and you're actually out there helping your team, instead of just looking at the team and knowing you can't do anything to help."
But a maturing Maroney says he was able to see the silver lining during his cloudy time sitting on the sidelines.
"Just be patient. You're time is going to come. Don't try to do too much, stay patient, and stay confident in yourself," he explained. "As long as I'm improving from year to year, that's all I want to do. I don't ever want to take a step back, or do the same [as the last year]. I just want to do better than the year before."
Perhaps the only way the Patriots could be better than last season would be if they were to go on and win Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. Having played and scored in his team's shocking loss in this past February's title game, Maroney is anxious for another shot. He knows, though, that it won't be easy.
"It was a fun thing, a cool experience. I had a great time. It's one of those things where you get a taste of it and you want to go back. All this offseason, I've been working hard to get us back."