"Mature" Stallworth happy to be back

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"Mature" Stallworth happy to be back

FOXBORO -- This will be Donte' Stallworth's 10th season in the NFL. If he makes the final roster, it will be his second season with the New England Patriots.

Since his last stint with the Pats in 2007-08, he's played for the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, and last year, the Washington Redskins.

Amidst those three seasons, Stallworth found himself in some off-the-field trouble, after a DUI manslaughter charge in March of 2009 led to a suspension during the 2009-10 NFL season.

So standing in a Patriots uniform again, three years after that suspension, talking to reporters, he said he never truly believed his career would be over. But he certainly feels grateful to not just be back in the league still, but to also be back in a place he called home before the suspension.

"I always try to keep positive the best I can," said Stallworth after Friday's training camp session. "So, that never really honestly crossed my mind at the time. But now, looking back on it, knowing how blessed I am to still being here doing what I love to do, and being around the fellas, is truly a blessing."

Before Friday's session, Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised how much the veteran receiver has matured. And even Stallworth agrees. He's a different person and player.

"I know I've matured as a player, matured as a person," said Stallworth. "I'm a lot smarter now than I was then. I think more so, when I was back here at the age of 26, I was more so playing off of talent. And now I've kind of developed into a smarter player, a better route runner, and things like that."

Belichick also praised Stallworth's leadership, and while Stallworth doesn't look at himself as a captain, he does sound like a guy who the younger Patriots can certainly learn from.

"I really don't think of myself like that," he said. "I just try to go out and help out the young guys as much as I can, because I was once that guy. And anything that I see from the younger guys that they might not notice that they're doing, I try to pull them to the side and tell them some things here and there. But mainly, I just try to do the things that I've learned throughout my career.

"When I was back here in '07, it was my fifth or sixth year in the league, and I was still one of the youngest players on the team. Vrabel, Bruschi, Rodney, T-Brown, all those guys, Randy, all those guys, they were super veterans, and I was just a veteran at the time. Throughout my career, I've picked up a lot of things, learned a lot from those guys, and now that I'm here, I'm in my 10th year, and I try to help out the younger guys as well, the way that those guys helped me out along the way."

Stallworth's biggest piece of advice to the younger players, he said, is to take advantage of every opportunity given to them. And now, in his 10th year in the league, he's ready to try and take advantage of another opportunity with the Patriots.

"Any time you can come back to a great organization like this -- great fans, great people here in the city -- it's always a plus," said Stallworth. "And there was no doubt in my mind that, if they would ever welcome me the opportunity to come back, I'd jump at the opportunity."

Stallworth isn't trying to hide the fact that he's familiar with the Patriots' system. He is. But he does admit that the offense has indeed "evolved" over time, since he was last here.

"I think it's evolved, because when Josh McDaniels left, they incorporated some things while he was gone," said Stallworth. "And now that he's back, he's also incorporated some of the things that he brought back with him, that he didn't do when he was here the last time.

"That's what the spring was for. We were trying to string some things together. And here in training camp now, I think it's pretty much the same thing. That's what training camp is for. You put in a lot of stuff, and you see what sticks. You do what you do best, and you try to work on that as much as you can."

He'll work on that with Tom Brady, a quarterback and a friend to Stallworth.

"Even aside of football, I've known Tom even before I came here the first time," said Stallworth. "And we've kept in touch throughout the years. Just being in this offense before, it's really helped me, being here in the spring, being able to pick back up on some of the terminology and some of the plays. Right now, I'm just trying to string them together. So far, so good. But, there are going to be some times where it reaches some adversity on offense. And we've just got to fight through it."

But as close as the two are, and as familiar as Stallworth is with the Patriots' offense, even he knows how many talented receivers are currently on the roster, just two days into training camp. But he also knows it's a long grind. But he's ready for the battle.

"I think we have an opportunity to play really well this year," said Stallworth. "But we're a long ways from that. The training camp, or the dog days every day, the groundhog day, we have to keep stringing them together.

"We're all pulling for each other, and however things shake out at the end, that's the name of the game."

Four-player draft class an indication of Patriots confidence in roster

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Four-player draft class an indication of Patriots confidence in roster

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had only 50 to 75 players on their draft board. From that group they took only four this weekend: Youngstown State edge defender Derek Rivers, Troy tackle Antonio Garcia, Arkansas defensive end Deatrich Wise and UCLA tackle Conor McDermott. 

What are we to gather from that? Does that miniscule class -- the smallest in team history -- mean this was a particularly shallow pool of talent?

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio seemed to indicate otherwise about a week before the draft during a press conference.

"Look, there's good football players top to bottom, I would say, across positions," he said."Our job is to find the ones that fit for us. The reality is, look, there are some players that fit. There’s some players that don’t. In the end, we end up with 50 to 75 players that we would draft from top to bottom. That’s a small number, but that’s where we end up."

That explanation seemed to be a sign that maybe Caserio, Bill Belichick and their staff felt as though there weren't many players in this class who could compete for spots on what was was a talent-laden roster well ahead of draft weekend. There were good players scattered throughout the class, as Caserio said, but maybe only 50 to 75 were good enough to challenge for jobs in New England.  

Boston Sports Tonight's Michael Holley -- whose book War Room followed closely the draft strategies of the Patriots, Chiefs and Falcons in 2011 -- said something interesting on CSN two weeks ago once Caserio let it be known that the Patriots draft board was looking relatively small. Holley believed the number of names on the draft board was a sign that the Patriots felt very good about their team before they were even on the clock to make a pick.

Because the Patriots will put names of their own players on their draft board, comparing them to potential draftees who might compete with them at a certain position, pegging only a limited number of players as "draftable" may mean that many of the veteran names already on the roster were unlikely to be leapfrogged by rookies.

It was an interesting point. In retrospect, it highlights the fact that this draft probably wasn't devoid of talent. But it may have been short on talent that could "fit" in New England -- or realistically make the 2017 Patriots. 

One area in the draft where the Patriots seemed to believe in its depth? Perhaps the team's most obvious area of need: Edge defender. 

The Patriots had just three established defensive ends on the roster going into the draft in Rob Ninkovich, Trey Flowers and Kony Ealy. Ninkovich, 33, is going into a contract season. Ealy is in the final year of his rookie deal and has never played a snap in New England. 

The Patriots had several options on the edge with their first pick at No. 72 overall. Kansas State's Jordan Willis, Texas A&M's Daeshon Hall, Alabama's Tim Williams, Auburn's Carl Lawson and Ohio's Tarell Basham were all on the board . . . yet they traded back. 

As ESPN's Mike Reiss suggested Sunday, that deal could have been the result of a player the Patriots liked -- like defensive end Dawuane Smoot of Illinois -- coming come off the board just before No. 72. Maybe they wanted to regroup and trade back to buy themselves time to make a choice they felt confident in.

But it also could have been a case where they had a handful of edge players on their board graded similarly, and they wanted to pick up some draft capital by moving down the board without sacrificing much in the way of talent. 

They ended up with Rivers, who some believe has the ability to be a top-end pass-rusher and would have been taken much higher had he played for a program in a power-five conference. Then they hung tight at No. 131 in the fourth round and found another added layer of depth for the edge in Wise, who in some ways looks like Chandler Jones when Jones was a rookie in 2012.

Whether or not the they thought of this year's draft as "deep" throughout? That's debatable. That they liked the look of their roster going into the weekend before making a pick is not.

Unconventional NFL draft grades

Unconventional NFL draft grades

Miss the draft because you were watching other sports (or literally doing anything else)? We've got you covered. 

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