SAN JOSE, Calif. – It hasn't exactly been a rousing start to the season for Laurence Maroney. Coming off a late-season surge where he rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the last six games in 2007, many hoped the former first-round pick had established himself once and for all as the team's lead back entering his third season.
That hasn't been the case thus far in 2008. Not only is he still looking for his first 100-yard performance of the season, he's yet to crack triple digits combined through the team's first four games. Maroney appeared to hit a low point during Sunday's 30-21 win over San Francisco, a game in which he carried 10 times for just 26 yards.
At one point during the second half, he gingerly ran out of bounds about a yard shy of the first down when there appeared to be ample opportunity to pass the stick before doing so. He also may have been responsible for a Matt Casselsack when he failed to chip a 49ers pass rusher before he left the backfield.
The CBS cameras caught a conversation between Maroney and running backs coach Ivan Fears on the sideline where it appeared the coach was voicing some displeasure with his top back. But Maroney downplayed the conversation Friday morning as he walked across a parking lot to the practice field at San Jose State University.
"They shot that? I didn't see that part," Maroney said with a smile. "He really wasn't yelling. I don't know what he was saying, I really don't remember. He wasn't yelling though."
While Maroney wasn't overly concerned with any strife with his coaches, the 2006 first-round pick did admit he was dealing with some problems that he's trying to overcome.
"I have my issues. There's reasons. I'd rather not speak about them, but there are reasons," Maroney said when asked specifically about the play he ran out of bounds.
Maroney missed the Miami game with a shoulder injury he suffered against the Jets in Week 2, and then he reappeared on the practice participation report this week, listed as having fully participated Wednesday and as limited on Thursday with the shoulder ailment.
When asked if the shoulder was the issue he referred to, Maroney said no. "Not really. Even if you hit it on the head I'd tell you no," he added.
The vague "issues" Maroney referenced continued to be a topic throughout his four-minute talk with the media. He said it was something he'd never dealt with before, which would seem to eliminate injury as a possibility.
"Like I said, I have issues right now but I'm trying to work through them the best I can and trying to do the best I can with my problems," Maroney said.
"Most definitely because people really don't know what it is and what you're dealing with," Maroney added when asked if he felt it was important to shut out the fans' criticism. "All they know is what you put out there on the TV. So you're going to get criticism until they find out what the problem is. I really don't pay any attention. I just keep doing what I'm doing and try to make the best of it.
"All I can say [is] I'm trying. That's all I can do no matter what the media says, how they perceive me, how the fans perceive me. I'm trying. At the end of the day, that's all I can do. If I was out here not trying then that's one thing but I'm actually out here trying to do what I can do. So I really don't care what everybody else says. The coaches know the issue, I know the issue and we're just trying to make the issue better if we can."
Maroney is part of a crowded backfield in New England with Sammy Morrisback from the chest injury that shortened his 2007 season to just five games and newcomer LaMont Jordanjoining third-down back Kevin Faulk. All have received carries, and after a promising 10-carry, 51-yard performance in the opener against Kansas City, Maroney has been the least effective.
For the season, he has just 93 yards on 28 carries (3.3-yard average) and no touchdowns. He's appeared tentative at times, and in his last two games has received the bulk of his carries early before being replaced by Morris and Jordan. Just five of his 18 carries came in the second half of those two games.
It's possible that the bevy of backs Bill Belichicknow has at his disposal has stripped Maroney of some of his confidence. At the very least, having such a sporadic workload could make it tougher to get into a rhythm, but Maroney downplayed that angle as well.
"Not really. There are different backs, different styles. I like it. It keeps us fresh, keeps us going, and keeps the defense tired," Maroney said. "You go out there and one back does something good, and you get [pumped] like you did it. Now he broke [one], now let me break [one]. It's fun out there."
Maroney has been a tantalizingly frustrating figure throughout his short tenure in New England. He's shown more than a few flashes of brilliance but can't seem to do so consistently. His durability has come into question and now, although he left the situation quite vague, he appears to be dealing with another matter that's keeping him from reaching his potential.
It's a matter that's worth keeping an eye on in the future, and the next chance to do so will come Sunday night in San Diego.