ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Moreno & Maroney might have to wait a while.
Bruising back Laurence Maroney passed his physical with the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, 24 hours after his trade from the New England Patriots, where he had fallen out of favor and down the depth chart.
Maroney wasn’t at the portion of practice open to the media. The Broncos don’t have to list his health status until Thursday, but his thigh injury could prevent him from practicing right away or providing immediate help to an already banged-up backfield.
What the Broncos are looking for right now is depth in case Knowshon Moreno or Correll Buckhalter go down again. So, they released tailback Andre Brown, who has no NFL carries, and traded for Maroney, who has 582 carries over four seasons with the Patriots.
“We looked at it and thought, ‘We’re at the point where if we incur another injury to one of our top two backs, it’s not that we don’t have players, we just don’t have a lot of players behind them that have played football in the NFL,’” said Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, New England’s offensive coordinator before he came to Denver last season.
McDaniels also wasn’t pleased with the production he got out of his ground game in the opener, suggesting, “We left a lot of yards on the field in the running game.”
The Broncos rushed for 89 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries in their 24-17 loss to Jacksonville. Moreno, who missed all of the preseason, gained 60 yards on 15 carries with one touchdown, and Buckhalter, who had just a handful of carries before the opener, ran six times for 15 yards and fumbled once.
Moreno’s right hamstring popped on the first day of training camp and 10 minutes later Buckhalter’s spine was jarred by a hard hit. Then, a torn right Achilles’ tendon in the preseason finale ended LenDale White’s season.
Maroney should be able to step right in when his health allows because McDaniels’ system borrows heavily from Bill Belichick’s.
“I know the kid he’s a good kid he can be productive in our offense,” McDaniels said. “And the thigh, we’re just going to see. We’re going to treat it and we’ll get him ready to go as soon as he can possibly play.”
The Patriots gave up on Maroney after he failed to emerge as a solid No. 1 back since being drafted out of Minnesota. He was limited by a shoulder injury to three games in 2008. In four years with New England, he rushed for 2,430 yards and 21 touchdowns and tended to run side to side rather than hit openings quickly.
He was inactive for the Patriots’ season-opening win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday when Fred Taylor led the Patriots rushers with 71 yards on 14 carries. They also have Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis at running back.
Maroney should get more carries in Colorado.
“He’s a heck-of-a talent,” said wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, who played with Maroney in New England. “He’s a great running back, can hit it inside, has speed to get outside and can do great things out of the backfield catching the ball. He’s a real good talent; just have to get him caught up.”
The Broncos are eager to see what he could do for them.
“I’ve just seen him from afar, so I haven’t been on the field with him, but he seems to be a physical back, a downhill-type of back and a guy that’s pretty explosive,” quarterback Kyle Orton said.
“I know he’s a bigger guy, a big running back,” offered wide receiver Eddie Royal. “He was a first-round pick, so you know he can play.”
Asked why he thought Maroney didn’t live up to expectations in New England, McDaniels noted that Maroney “was the leading rusher in 2007 on a very highly productive team.” Besides, he said, the Patriots rotate a lot of running backs just like the Broncos do.
“I think it depends on what the expectations are that you’re setting on somebody,” McDaniels said. “If you’re playing in an offense that uses three and four and five backs, expectations of 1,500 yards rushing probably aren’t realistic. Again, this guy has a lot of football in front of him and we’re excited to have him.”
Maroney’s contract expires after this season but McDaniels said the Broncos will seek an extension.
Moreno said he looked forward to splitting snaps with Maroney.
“We need people in here that can help this team out and help us win,” Moreno said. “So, the more the better.”