FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – First-round draft pick Laurence Maroney was clutching the ball when he was pounded by his new Patriots teammate and tumbled to the ground.

Welcome to the NFL, rookie.

“I was about due for one,” Maroney said. “You hear everybody wants to hit the first-rounder.”

Tedy Bruschi leveled him on the second day of New England’s training camp Saturday, a day when the running back from Minnesota already had to get up early and wear heavy equipment with temperatures around 90.

It’s something the linebacker, starting his 11th season, would do to any running back, even Corey Dillon, whose job Maroney is expected to take at some point.

“I think everyone’s sort of looking at Laurence a little bit closer than they are Corey and the hits that he takes and how he responds to them because he’s young and it’s his first training camp,” Bruschi said. “So far, I have no complaints about the kid.

“I see him get up and go back to the huddle and he’s ready for the next play. That’s all I want to see.”

To Maroney’s head coach, though, the hit was nothing special.

“I didn’t think it was all that hard,” Bill Belichick sniffed.

Deion Branch didn’t take any on-field hits because the team’s top wide receiver, in the last year of his original five-year contract, held out of camp for a second straight day to get a better deal.

Asked if he had any update on Branch or if he would exercise his right to fine the player $14,000 for each day he misses camp, Belichick responded the same way:

“I’ll talk about the players that are here.”

Maroney absorbed plenty of punishment on his 660 carries in three college seasons. He rushed for 3,933 yards and is one of three Big Ten players to rush for more than 1,000 in each of his first three seasons.

But he only caught 21 passes in the Gophers’ run-oriented offense and is working hard to pick up that aspect of the game. That isn’t the only challenge he’s faced.

“Getting up in the morning” for camp is the toughest obstacle, Maroney joked. “We had a nice little week off before we came back. I was sleeping all day.”

He returned in time for the first practice of training camp Friday morning. Just barely.

Maroney didn’t agree to contract terms until the previous day.

“For a couple of weeks, they weren’t even talking about my contract yet. I was like, Wow, don’t they want me in camp or something?”‘ he said. “Then they started talking about it and everything started moving fast and it seemed like we got the deal done right on time.”

The 31-year-old Dillon is entering his third season with New England after seven with Cincinnati. During an injury-plagued season, he rushed for just 733 yards while missing four games last year. The previous season, his career-high 1,635 yards rushing contributed to the Patriots’ third Super Bowl championship in four years.

Dillon still should be the primary back this season.

“He’s helped me out a lot, tells me the insights about things, how to read a defense a little bit better, the footwork,” Maroney said.

Learning the Patriots passing attack – its blitz pickups and pass patterns – has been a challenge.

“He’s worked hard at that,” Belichick said. “He’s absorbed a lot and I think his performance in the passing game has improved quite a bit since when he came in here in early May.”

For Maroney, it’s a matter of being disciplined and precise.

“It’s basically running the routes and knowing that if they want a 4-yard route, they want a 4-yard route, not a 31/2 or not a 5,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that tie into that so just getting all that down has been kind of tough, but I’m learning.”

Maroney learned Saturday, if he didn’t already know, that Bruschi is a high energy player who doesn’t mind crunching teammates.

“It snuck up on me by surprise,” the 220-pound Maroney said, “but every running back gets hit.”

He managed to dish out some hits himself. On one play, a defender’s helmet flew off when they collided.

“I’m never afraid to go in there and hit somebody,” Maroney said. “Corey always tells me the defense is going to hit, so hit them first. They hit me. I hit them. It’s good teamwork.”

AP-ES-07-29-06 1736EDT


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