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What Will Laurence Maroney's Role with the Patriots be in 2010?

All Patriots fans have heard this question before: Will [Insert Year Here] be the year that Laurence Maroney finally breaks out for the Patriots?

That being said, I don't think that there's a single player on the Patriots that can create the debate that Laurence Maroney does for Patriots fans. With Maroney, you have a physically gifted running bank that just hasn't lived up to the promise he showed while splitting carries with Corey Dillon his rookie year.

Initially, he had a problem staying healthy. Maroney was constantly banged up, missing a pair in 2006, three in 2007, and missing nearly the entire season in 2008. Then there was the problem of his "dancing." While Laurence Maroney had great explosiveness, he never seemed to hit the line a full velocity. Instead, he would bounce around behind the line of scrimmage, maybe pick up a yard, or maybe be stopped for a three yard loss. Yet every now and then, you would see a play that would make you say: "WOW!"

Heading into 2009, the expectations weren't very high for Maroney. He was supposed to break out in 2007, then in 2008, but it never happened. Having played just 3 games in 2008, and the team picking up Fred Taylor to go with Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris, it looked like Laurence Maroney might have been getting phased out of the team's plans. However, following a Fred Taylor injury in week four and an injury to Sammy Morris early in week six, Maroney began taking the bulk of the carries, and didn't look back. In the next nine games, Maroney carried the ball 13 or more times each game, tallying nine touchdowns rushing, 636 yards, good for nearly 71 per game. He wasn't hesitating, and was constantly moving piles and breaking tackles (even delivering his own hits).

However, there was his fumbling problem. Over the nine game stretch, Maroney fumbled three times, including one costly goal line fumble against the Colts. In week sixteen against the Jaguars, Maroney suffered his fourth fumble of the season, including his second at the goal line. Following the fumble, Maroney didn't touch the ball the rest of the regular season, and was a healthy scratch against Houston in the regular season finale. In the team's playoff loss to the Ravens, Maroney only carried the ball once, despite getting the start.

Heading into the 2010 offseason, many fans expected the Patriots to go after a young running back in the draft. Names like Ryan Mathews, Montario Hardesty, and Jahvid Best were consistently attached to the Patriots. However, the draft came and went and the team didn't select a running back. This quote from Peter King, which was featured as a fanshot by Richard Hill, really highlighted the story:

I think I have one question for Patriots fans: Do you think Laurence Maroney has incriminating photos of someone? Kidding, but really, they've got 12 draft picks and can't get someone to threaten the job of the terminally disappointing Maroney?

The question becomes: is Laurence Maroney set to be the Patriots starting running back in 2010? And if he is, how will he perform?

This is where the debate sparks between Patriots fans.

What side am I on? I consider myself a Maroney supporter. I know that he put a lot of work into improving himself both physically and mentally as a player last season, and I think we began to see some of those dividends pay off in games against Buffalo, Carolina, New Orleans, and Miami. I believe, if Maroney stays healthy like he did in 2009, that he could have a solid season in 2010, especially if the Patriots show a commitment to running the football. I could see him having a 1,000-1,200 yard year with around a dozen touchdowns. This is all contingent on Maroney being out of Bill Belichick's dog house. However, to completely ignore the running back position in the draft is a risk, especially considering that other than rookie free agent Pat Paschall, not a single running back is signed past this season for the Patriots. And barring a ridiculous season from Maroney in 2010 (or another uncapped year that makes Maroney a restricted free agent), I don't see him signing a contract extension with the club.

So where do you stand? Do you think that Laurence Maroney can have a productive season in 2010? Could he still be traded? Will he stay healthy, or will he ride the bench?