By: Ian Logue/
August 12, 2006

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ATLANTA, GA -- It didn't take long for New England Patriots first round rookie running back Laurence Maroney to make an impression during Friday night's 26-23 exhbition loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

On Maroney's first carry from scrimmage he picked up 12 yards, getting tripped up by teammate Heath Evans while trying to turn the corner, but quickly recovered and got back up and kept going before being taken down by a Falcons' defender. On his second run he picked up 27 more, bursting through the center of the line and scampering up field where he bounced off another Atlanta defensive player before finally being taken down at the 16 yard line.

The two runs helped set up a 26 yard field goal by Martin Gramatica, but more importantly gave fans a good look at the man who will likely be the featured back of New England's offense.

But he wasn't quite done just yet.

Maroney would later break off yet another run of nine yards on the team's third drive of the game, slipping away from Falcons safety Nick Turnbull after it appeared that Turnbull had the angle but couldn't quite wrap him up.

On the team's next possession, Maroney again took the ball up the middle, initially getting hit but spun away before picking up five more yards.

Not a bad start for the rookie out of Minnesota who finished with 9 carries for 66-yards (7.3 avg), and at least after this game has shown that he has the potential to become an impact player in New England's offense. After the game head coach Bill Belichick praised the rookie, but said he's still got a lot of work ahead of him.

"I think he made some good plays, [he's got] some things he needs to work on,” Belichick told reporters after the game. "I think somewhere along the line he'll be able to help us hopefully. We'll just have to see how it all works out. I think it's too early to talk about what anybody's going to do or not do at this point.”

Should Maroney continue to improve, it would provide the Patriots with a much needed back up for Corey Dillon. Dillon spent much of last season hampered by injuries, and as a result his production suffered. Unfortunately the team really didn't have someone who could carry the load in his absence, putting the pressure instead on quarterback Tom Brady and taking the running game away as a focus for opposing teams. Now with a healthy Dillon and Kevin Faulk, Maroney adds yet another dynamic to an offense that will certainly benefit from an improved rushing attack.

For now Dillon is obviously the lead back, and looked like he was back to his old self Friday night in Atlanta as he powered through the middle of the line. Kevin Faulk also looked solid, catching the ball well out of the backfield and still showing his quick moves and big play capability.

While it may have been just one game Belichick should be pleased by what he saw. He also got another surprise from Patrick Cobbs, the free agent rookie from the University of North Texas, who finished with three catches for 80 yards, and five rushes for 25 yards.

Needless to say heading back to practice this week the running game appears to be even better than many expected. With an offense that is already without one of its top performers in Deion Branch who's sitting out with a contract dispute, they'll definitely need to be able to run the ball to take some of the pressure off of Brady and the passing game. So far it appears that won't be a problem heading into this season.

"We had our moments,” said Belichick about the running game. "But when you're second-and-[one on the third drive] and lose yardage and then you have third-and-4, I don't think that's a positive.”

Thankfully there seem to be a lot more positive moments to work from.