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Patriots changes by position: Running Back

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When I do Q&A's with other bloggers, I'm asked two questions almost every time: a) how is Tom Brady and b) who will start at running back. The first question is a bit of a dance as there's very little information on Tommy Terrific, but the second question, the running back question, I always feel more confident to answer: Laurence Maroney. As you may know, I'm not a fan of the term "starter" especially with our backfield. When you breakout how many snaps a player may play compared to others at his position, his contribution to the team becomes more apparent. Laurence may, more than likely, play more snaps than his counterparts. But I believe we will have a "backfield by committee". It appears each RB has a special skill that is tailor made for certain situations and Belichick is a master at using his tools, isn't he? With that said, let's get started.

  • Laurence Maroney - I have been critical of Maroney. Living up to expectations in 2006, he's had issues ever since. Overall, I find him "bouncing" off of the line and not deciseively slicing through holes, or finding holes for that matter. His colleague, Sammy Morris, has this ability but at 32, may be approaching the time when the gas in the tank is dwindling. Laurence's lack of decisiveness showed itself in 2008, especially in Week 5 versus the 49ers. He was IR'd after that game and we have since found out it was due to a broken bone in his shoulder. I won't touch on the controversy swirling around this injury (ie: Patriots concealed the injury), but I will say I have renewed respect for the man and I'm a little miffed he had to conceal it. All along, I've been unfairly labeling Laurence as "soft". Had I known about the broken bone, I could have given him a fair shake. That being said, Maroney is the guy who will line up by default and get the most snaps, in the beginning that is. It's his job to lose and I'm really pulling for him to knock it out of the park.
  • Sammy Morris - For lack of a better term, I view Morris as Maroney's backup. Having the ability to rotate in Sammy gives everyone a fresh set of legs and that's important. I've also felt Morris is a very productive running back and a good guy to depend on when you need the yardage; he always finds a way to break through the line and get what you need. If Laurence can stay healthy, I believe we'll have an excellent set of "everything backs" in Maroney and Morris.
  • Kevin Faulk - Faulk, labeled as a third down specialist, showed us true grit in 2008. With Maroney out after Week 5 and LaMont Jordan injured as well, Faulk had to take more snaps and he showed us why opposing teams sigh in disgust when he's in. The guy is simply clutch. Checkdown, slot, option, run, it doesn't matter. And when he IS called upon in third down, defenses have to respect him and keep close tabs, because he has the hands to move the chains. With a rejuvenated backfield, I think we can move Kevin back to third downs for the most part.
  • BenJarvus Green-Ellis - "Law Firm", initially assigned to the practice squad in 2008, grew up fast when Maroney and Jordan were hurt and I think he did a really good job. More importantly, he got what many rookies need to do well: reps. It was baptism by fire for BenJarvus, but he got valuable experience at an NFL level and showed his stuff. I hope he's kept in the rotation and allowed to use those young legs to contribute.
  • Omar Cuff - Cuff hails from Delaware and was a productive "everything" back in college. There's little scouting information on Omar, so it's hard to tell where he'll fit in the roster.
  • Eric Kettani - Belichick has an affinity for the Naval Academy. His father coached there for many years and son Bill spent a great deal of team at that institution. Academy graduates with "special skills" can take advantage of shorter service times after graduation (because the academy is free, graduates normally "owe" the government five years of full service).
  • Fred Taylor - I like Fred and not just because he gave the Pulpit an interview, although that certainly doesn't hurt. ;-) I like Fred because he's all about hard nosed football. To say Taylor has moves is not giving him credit for what he can do. He also has a ridiculous after burner and can outrun DBs. Most importantly, Fred will be a great mentor for Laurence. Early in Taylor's career, he went through many of the same issues Maroney is facing. Maybe this was the main reason Belichick picked up "Fast Freddy".

Is this a good crew? I'm incredibly stoked to see Maroney come out and silence the critics; that would bode well for the future of our franchise. Morris as a another "utility back" is pretty darn good, too. Faulk is just, well, Faulk. He's a dangerous weapon in the backfield, especially when Moss and Welker are blanketed by coverage. Omar Cuff is a wait and see prospect as is Eric Kettani. Fred Taylor could be the wildcard in all of this. His highlights show a guy who can juke and jive with the best of them, has great downhill speed, and is not afraid to dish out some punishment to an unsuspecting DB. If we can balance out the aerial assault with a solid running game, the New England Patriots will be tough to beat.