Maroney runs out of time


Maroney runs out of time

By Rich Levine

Ive got a pretty clear memory of the first drive of Laurence Maroneys career.

It was Week 1 of the 2006 season, against the Bills, and thanks to the mess that is Gillette security, I was a little late getting into the stadium.

I was actually still running through the concourse during the kick off, but thankfully got to my seats, grossly out breath, just in time for the first snap of the season. Just in time to see Tom Brady get drilled by Takeo Spikes, the ball hit the ground, London Fletcher pick it up and the Bills go up 7-0. It also didnt help that at this point I was basically dry-heaving from my 30-second sprint.

Anyway, the offense comes back onto the field, and on the fourth play from scrimmage (confession: I had to look that part up), No. 39 trots into the huddle. Hes built more like a strong safety than a running back. He has Whoopi Goldberg dreadlocks hanging out the back of his helmet. He takes that first carry and bursts up the middle.

And this wasnt just any burst. This was like dropping Mentos into a two-liter bottle of Coke burst. It was an explosion. He broke through the middle, picking up speed as he went, inviting contact, destroying anything in his path. Twenty-seven yards later he was finally pushed out of bounds.

I started laughing.

Two plays later, and its third-and-five; Brady's in the shotgun and No. 39's back in the game. This time he takes the ball on a draw, runs off-guard and into daylight. Twenty-two yards later and New England not only had its running back of the future, but its future, in general.

Again, I started laughing. And this wasnt just a little chuckle. It was hilarious, borderline maniacal laughter. I couldnt believe that this was the Patriots' new running back. That this high-speed, 220-pound bull dozer was now in New England. How great was this going to be? I was in awe. I was giddy.

Typically, you wouldnt jump to such conclusions after the first two carries of an NFL career. But back in 2006, it was easy. Back then, if you were the first pick of the New England Patriots, you were going to be somebody. Before Maroney, the Pats had selected (in reverse order) Logan Mankins, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Daniel Graham and Richard Seymour with their first pick. So when Maroney went No. 21 in 2006, we were ready for the next star, and it wouldnt take much convincing. Two carries for 49 yards just about did the trick.

And it wasn't just the yards, it was also how he got them. Like I mentioned, the guy loved contact. He got more joy out of stiff-arming a cornerback into the ground than breaking ankles with a juke move (although he could do that, too). With every step, he became fast and harder to take down. He had an unmatched determination, one that would leave him primed to lead the rushing attack once Corey Dillon hung them up.

And it didn't hurt that he had a personality to match. He had the braids. He had more bling inside his mouth than Bill Russell has on his fingers. He had an amazing nickname: Kool Aid, and wore a Kool Aid Man chain the size of Wes Welker around his neck. He was just cool. Ridiculous cool.

The first year played out pretty much as planned. Of course he didnt average 20 yards a carry, but he showed us he was ready. He was the perfect compliment to Dillon, a beast in the return game, and gave us no reason to worry about his future.

In 2007, he was the lead back in the greatest offense in NFL history. He played in 13 games, ran for 885 yards, six touchdowns, and didnt fumble once. In all honesty, we probably expected a little more out of him that second season, but how could you find fault in the Patriots offense? How could Maroney have really made them any better than they were? As the Pats moved into playoff mode, Maroney followed suit, with back-to-back, bruising 125-yard games in wins over the Jaguar and Chargers. His Super Bowl performance was forgettable, but, hey, so was that whole Super Bowl.

This time, 2008 was supposed to be the year he made it, until a shoulder injury ended "it" after three games. Meanwhile, by this time, a trio of running backs who were drafted behind Maroney were leaving their mark on the league. Deangelo Williams (drafted five spots after) ran for 1,500 yard and an NFL-leading 18 touchdowns. Joseph Addai (drafted nine spots after) was slightly off in 2008, but had already amassed two 1,000-yard seasons and a Super Bowl ring. Maurice Jones Drew (drafted 39 spots after) had scored a combined 40 touchdowns by the time his third season was over, and was even better in 2009. Theyd all graduated to the upper echelon of NFL running backs, but the Kool Aid Man was still stuck in 10th grade. He just couldnt get it right. He never joined the rest of the class.

Thats not to say that Maroney didnt have his chances. Sure, he was never handed the role of "featured back," but he was given every opportunity to earn it. Partly because he was a first-round pick, and you want to give those guys every chance in the world to prove their worth. But it was also because the Patriots still believed that he might turn it around. They saw the same potential we all did. The potential was unquestionable (unlike the man himself, who seemed to always be listed as questionable).

If he could just put it all together, then . . .

Then, I dont know.

Well never know. At least not here in New England. At least not the way we all envisioned it would be, with Laurence Maroney bridging the gap to another chapter of the Patriots Dynasty and with that beastly figure and those Whoopi Goldberg braids becoming a fixture in the Gillette Stadium end zone.

Its the end of an era. The "God, whens Maroney finally going to figure this out?" Era.

In a way, its a relief. But you also have to feel bad that he'll probably never reach the expectations we once dreamed of. And maybe a little stupid, or at least I do, for jumping to such lofty conclusions in the first place.

Blame it injuries. Blame it on Belichick. Blame it on whatever.

I'll blame it on the most memorable first two touches in Patriots history. It was only downhill from there.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

BOSTON, Mass – Malcolm Subban says that he believes that he can still be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.

While that’s admirable on some level for the sheer, brazen self-confidence involved in saying this after getting yanked from a 5-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden, pretty much all of the evidence points out the contrary. Nearly two years after getting pulled from his NHL debut in against the St. Louis Blues after giving up three goals on six shots, Subban was pulled from Tuesday night’s appearance after giving up three goals on eight second period shots with the Bruins desperately in need of a quality start in goal.

He maintained a defiantly confident tone after another humbling NHL effort against Minnesota, and that’s a testament to the maturity and mental toughness of the person behind the goalie mask.

“It sucks. Obviously, I’m just trying to finish the game, let alone win one. Obviously it sucks, but what can you do now, right?” said Subban, who has now allowed six goals on 22 career shots faced in two starts. “Obviously I want to be a number one goaltender in the league. I was a high pick for a reason. I have the potential, and I just have to show it. Obviously I haven’t done that so far yet, but I think I’m getting closer to it. Honestly, I think I can do it right now. I just got to show it. Obviously, I didn’t [do it] today, but tomorrow’s a new day.”

Given the stunningly bad quality of his two NHL starts combined with a thoroughly pedestrian body of work at the AHL level over the last three years, there is literally zero tangible evidence Subban is tracking to be a franchise goaltender. Instead he’s the emergency goaltender called on by the Bruins only after Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin have both been shelved by injuries, and he’s now flunked the two pop quizzes when the NHL team needed him to come through.

Meanwhile, a sizeable selection of goaltenders taken after him in the 2012 NHL Draft class have already proven their NHL worth and broken through at the elite level: Matt Murray, Frederik Anderson, Connor Hellebuyck and Joonas Korpisalo.

Subban was hoping all along to break through this season in Boston, but things went south on him quickly with a Bruins team not playing well in front of him. The first goal was a fluttering Charlie Coyle shot that trickled between his glove hand and the top of his leg pad. The third goal was a softie low and to the glove side, power play strike authored by Ryan Suter. It added up to poor goaltending and shoddy defense, but it also added up to a Bruins goaltender that didn’t even give his hockey club a chance to win.

“It could be a combination of both. There are some goals – I’m not going to lie – there are some goals that we thought our goaltenders should have had. But I’m not here to talk about a goaltender who’s in one of his first few games because he let in a couple of bad goals,” said Julien. “We were terrible in front of him and we weren’t any better, and that’s the big picture. That’s more important.

“I don’t care who’s in net. I think when you have some injuries you need to be better in those situations and we weren’t good enough tonight. It doesn’t matter if Tuukka [Rask] is in net and we had injuries up front, or we’re lacking players here or there. You’ve got to let the system take care of the game. If you play it the right way, you have a chance to win. When you don’t, you don’t. That’s what happened [against Minnesota].”

There’s no question the defense in front of Subban wasn’t nearly good enough, and Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug in particular struggled to lock things down in the defensive zone. The wide open shots from the slot - like the Chris Stewart score in the second period that arrived 12 seconds after Minnesota’s opening goal - are indicative of a hockey club that’s not sticking to the game plan once things start to get a little wonky.

But this is about a player in Subban that should be entering the NHL stage of his career after being a first round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and anybody would be hard-pressed to see him as an NHL goalie after failing in each of his first two NHL starts. Combine that with the lack of dominance at the AHL level over the last three years, and there’s a better chance that Subban will be a major first round bust for the Bruins rather than suddenly develop into a late-blooming No. 1 goaltender in Boston.

The scary part is that Subban and fellow young netminder Zane McIntyre are all the Bruins have for Wednesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden, and perhaps longer than that if Rask can’t make rapid progress with his lower body injury.

Maybe Subban can be a bit better than he’s shown thus far, and the four goals allowed to Minnesota were not all his fault. The bottom line, however, is that Subban should be up for doing this job right now. Tuesday was a big chance for the young goalie to make a statement that he was ready for it.

Instead he looked like the same goalie that’s been pulled from two of his first four AHL starts this season, and plays like a goaltender that’s never going to truly be ready for the call in Boston.