Maroney hears the criticism

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Now is the time for Laurence Maroney. If the 2006 first-round draft choice is to finally turn the corner, this is it.

The Patriots need him as much as ever, with veteran Fred Taylor out indefinitely with a right ankle injury. And Maroney needs it himself, to prove to himself that he can still be the explosive running back who once was a feared presence to those attempting to tackle him.

The 24-year-old Maroney was riveting at times Friday while holding court with reporters at Gillette Stadium.

He said he didn't hear booing from fans in Sunday's 27-21 win over the Ravens, but that it couldn't help but hurt him when others told him about it. He also talked about turning back the clock to his high school days and getting back to basics, playing with a reckless abandon that is now missing from his game.

He agreed that he dances in the hole too much at times, saying he needs to be more decisive. But other times, he said he sways too far toward decisiveness to answer his critics, and in those instances needs to be more patient.

His challenge is to strike the right balance between the two.

Listening to the likeable Maroney, one can't help but want him to succeed, while also drawing the conclusion that perhaps his recent struggles are as much mental as they are physical. Maybe a clear head might clear the way for Maroney to ultimately reach his potential.

The conflict seemed perfectly captured when Maroney, who is coming off a seven-carry, 6-yard performance, described his mindset after taking a handoff.

"Sometimes I can feel myself trying to hit the hole extra fast, because I know that's what people are saying -- 'He doesn't hit the hole fast enough,' or 'He's dancing too much,'" he acknowledged.

"So sometimes in the back of my head it's 'Come on, Laurence. Downhill! Fast!' I'm just 100 miles to the hole and I feel like that's just as bad as dancing because I'm not really reading the play out and really going the way it's blocked. I'm trying to hit it fast and hard so they can be like 'At least Maroney was running hard.' But it doesn't mean anything if I'm running hard and not getting anywhere."

Maroney's career hasn't headed where he's desired since joining the team as the 21st overall selection in the 2006 draft. There have been flashes of brilliance, but unfortunate injuries and inconsistency have also been part of his résumé.

It reached a new level when fans booed him Sunday.

"I didn't know about it but I got home and [my family] told me about it. I laughed and said, 'We have one of the roughest crowds. They are so judgmental. They want perfection.' I didn't really take it to heart. I didn't think they were disliking me, or that they don't like me as a running back no more," he said.

"I just feel like they want me to do good and I'm not performing to the level they want me to perform to. I felt like it was their way of saying 'Mr. Maroney, now is the time we need you to step up and be the running back everyone expected you to be.' That's how I'm going to take it: 'OK crowd, I hear you.' And I'm trying to take that approach.'"

While Maroney said he doesn't watch sports programming on television or read newspapers, he does hear criticism from the press. That also seems to be tying into his struggles.

"Whether I hear it or not, some way it always comes back to me," he said. "It's always in the back of my mind. A lot of things people say about me and my running style and how I am, it's in the back of my head and I do take it into consideration out there sometimes. Like I said, I have to be more patient and decisive on my reads and how I play this game."

That's why Maroney recently made a pact with himself to return to his roots. He is attempting to remove the clutter in his mind and let it rip.

Now is the time because the Patriots need him more than ever without Taylor, their leading rusher.

"I ask myself a lot, 'What's the biggest difference from me running the ball in high school with my success and me running the ball in college with my success? What I am doing differently?'" Maroney said. "I've come to the final conclusion that I'm not running how I used to run, so I feel like I have to get back to the basics.

"I think that's what everybody needs to do, people in general, when things aren't going right in their life. You just have to step back and see what you got here. So I have to become patient, make my reads, and [play] with no remorse. Just go out and be a kamikaze and throw your body around.

"That's how I used to play, and I need to get back to it."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.