Maroney runs out of time

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Maroney runs out of time

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

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 CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Hayward scheduled to meet with C's, Jazz, Heat when free agency begins

Hayward scheduled to meet with C's, Jazz, Heat when free agency begins

Coveted free agent Gordon Hayward reportedly has three teams he is interested in signing with this summer. The Celtics, as you might expect, are one of them.

The other two are the Heat and his team for the last seven years, the Jazz.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Hayward is scheduled to meet with all three teams when free agency begins, starting with the Heat on Saturday and then the Jazz on Monday. His day to meet with the Celtics has yet to be announced.

All three teams are likely to offer Hayward max contracts, but expect the C's to push extra hard to land him as they attempt to "sequence acquisitions" for both Hayward and Pacers star Paul George.

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

The Bruins should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. They really shouldn’t. 

Yet they might. Pierre McGuire said on TSN Radio Tuesday that his guess is that Shattenkirk, arguably the best free agent defenseman on the market, will end up in Boston.

It is remarkable how universally against a Shattenkirk megadeal B’s fans have seemingly been. A Twitter poll with over 3,600 votes this month had Bruins fans preferring Boston sign 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to a two-year, $8 million extension than the 28-year-old  Shattenkirk to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal. 

That is obviously the correct conclusion, but considering how hard the false “Chara is old and bad” garbage is pushed in this town, it’s telling that 64 percent would rather he stick around than the team build the defense around Shattenkirk. 

Of course, Shattenkirk is not a bad player just because he’s been overrated in recent seasons. He’s a decent second-pairing defender and strong power play asset who can be penciled in for 40 points a year. The Bruins already have that in Torey Krug, and he makes less than Shattenkirk figures to command. Shattenkirk is also a righty who plays on the right, which is not a need for the Bruins, whereas Krug is a left shot who plays both sides. 

Add in the Bruins’ cap situation due to some bad contracts and they why of Shattenkirk would be a bad signing doesn’t need to be re-hashed. By this point, the explanation’s been given a few times in a few different places. 

So what would the Bruins’ actual case for signing Shattenkirk be? 

TO KEEP IT MOVING 

Last season was encouraging for Bruins fans because it saw them reach the playoffs for the first time in three years while also seeing young talent emerge. Yet they still only made the playoffs by two points, something of which Don Sweeney and Cam Neely are undoubtedly aware. 

So for all the good signs, this could be a fringe playoff team again if more improvements aren’t made, and missing the playoffs for the second time in three years would mark a step back in the eyes of ownership, perhaps putting jobs in danger. It would be a shame if money were spent irresponsibly for the sake of saving jobs, but Shattenkirk would definitely make the Bruins better next season, even if it crippled them financially down the road. 

TO PULL A CHIARELLIAN FREE AGENT SWITCHEROO

With McAvoy set to be a top-pairing player and Brandon Carlo a good second-pairing option, the Bruins do not have a need for a highly paid right-shot defender. That doesn’t mean they don’t have needs elsewhere. 

Last offseason, Peter Chiarelli made the controversial move of trading Taylor Hall, one of the best left wings on the planet. He did it to get Adam Larsson to help build Edmonton’s blue line up, then he went out and signed Milan Lucic in free agency to replace Hall. 

If the Bruins truly have designs on adding Shattenkirk, perhaps they could have something similar in mind: Trade someone like Carlo for either a left-shot defenseman or a left wing, then replace Carlo with Shattenkirk. 

This would still not be financially palatable, however. When the Oilers traded Hall for Larsson, they swapped a player with a $6 million cap hit for a player with a $4.16 million cap hit and replaced the original player (Hall) with a player in Lucic who carried a $6 million cap hit. So essentially they netted one player for an additional $4.16 million. 

Carlo is on his entry level contract, so unless the Bruins traded him for a player on an entry-level deal, they’d be spending a lot of money in any maneuver that involved replacing him with Shattenkirk. 

TO GO ALL-IN ON POST-CLAUDE LIFE

Claude Julien’s detractors lamented his affinity for responsibility. They loved it when Bruce Cassidy was more open to trading chances. 

Well, you like trading chances? Shattenkirk’s your guy. He’s a good skater, a good offensive player and a sub-par defender. You put Krug, Shattenkirk and McAvoy as three of your four top-four defenseman and you’ll be a long way from the days of Chara, Seidenberg and Boychuk, for better or worse. 

BUT, KEEP IN MIND . . . 

They for sure should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk.