Pressure of first Super Bowl can't dampen Maroney's spirit

New England running back Laurence Maroney climbed the stairs into his booth Tuesday to face a throng of reporters at the circus that is media day. Perched about three feet above the crowd, he looked like a man at the carnival dunking booth, smiling and confident that no one could hit the bull's-eye and drown his excitement of attending his first Super Bowl.

"It's definitely not (intimidating). This whole week has been fun. I hope I get my opportunity to show the world that I can run the ball on this type of stage.," he said. "There's no better stage. You know everybody in the world is going to be watching. This is a good game to set the foundation for the run game."

Maroney, in his second season, has maintained a light-hearted attitude throughout the week in Arizona, joking with reporters but also sincerely answering their questions about his ascent to the top of the depth chart.

Maroney underwent minor shoulder surgery in the offseason and Sammy Morris was expected share time with Maroney in New England's backfield. But Morris was placed on injured reserve after Week 8 with a chest injury.

In the first half of the season, some people had forgotten that the Patriots even had (or needed) a running game as quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Randy Moss torched every defense they faced in lopsided victories.

"We were doing real well in the pass," Maroney said. "I was just going to be patient. I knew sooner or later, the weather was going to be on my side and allow me to get my runs off."

Indeed, when the Patriots played their two playoff games, Moss had just two receptions and New England demonstrated that their offense is not just one-dimensional at a frigid Gillette Stadium. Maroney's two 122-yard contributions on the ground kept the unbeaten streak alive and put the Pats in the Super Bowl.

Maroney emerged well before the postseason. In four of the last five games (including playoffs), he ran for more than 100 yards. The only team in the final stretch of the season that didn't allow Maroney to surpass the century mark? The New York Giants.

"The last five weeks I've been establishing myself in the run game and letting everyone know that I have some ability to run the ball in the NFL. I just want to continue it and make it better on this stage."

Ivan Fears, the Patriots running backs coach for 11 seasons, has no doubt that Maroney is ready to be a feature back in the NFL.

"We tried to play it safe with him (because of the injury) early in the season, but as far as Laurence being ready to go, he is definitely ready to take over," he said. "I think he's got a hell of a future. If he can get over the injuries he's had early, I think you'll find him on field all the time."

Fears said Maroney has worked hard on his receiving skills with veteran back Kevin Faulk, who is Brady's favorite target out of the backfield.

"We've got a close-knit group," Fears said. "They push each other. And they complement each other pretty good."

Maroney has been mentored off the field by his "big brother" too, watching film, working out and spending time in the weight room together.

As for Maroney's affable nature and comfort with the media, Fears says that was cultivated last year by Corey Dillon, who was released in the offseason.

"A guy as dynamic as Corey was so successful," Fears said. "That was good for him to see. And Corey was a great professional. Laurence is already great in the media room, but seeing Corey in the media room sort of helped him, besides learning his assignments, and learning his routes."

In Week 17, the Giants held the Patriots to just 44 yards on the ground, and Maroney is confident that a healthy Patriots lineup that can use the pass as well as the run will be tougher to stop.

"That will be the best bet to come out balanced and let them pick and choose which one they want to take away -- the run game or the pass game. Hopefully, they don't take away the run game."

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