"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."

Bean: The 2007 Patriots don't get nearly enough love

Bean: The 2007 Patriots don't get nearly enough love

Phil Perry has been running a series on the 2007 Patriots vs. the 2017 Patriots. He breaks everything down position-by-position and compares what should go down as two of the best teams in franchise history. It’s really good stuff. 

Also, a lot of people are idiots. 

    For some reason -- and it’s either because they’re rightfully excited for the upcoming team or because they’re still shell-shocked by 18-1 -- the 2007 Patriots have been shown a remarkable lack of love when it’s come to the reader votes. It’s insane. 

    2007 PATRIOTS vs. 2017 PATRIOTS:

    And before you start with the “This is Boston and it only counts if you win” nonsense, remember that the 2017 team hasn’t done a thing yet, so by saying the 2017 Pats are better than the 2007 Pats, you’re saying the then-greatest offense of all time is worse than a current work in progress.

    As if anyone should need the reminder, the 2007 Patriots rank as the No. 2 scoring team ever, and at the time they were No. 1. Their 36.8 points a game was dwarfed only by the 2013 Broncos, who averaged 37.9. Then again, the Patriots have four of the top 12 scoring teams ever, so there’s no reason to rule out what should be a loaded 2017 group registering high on that list as well. 

    But back to the ’07 team for a second. At the time of this writing, a poll of over 3,300 readers had 67 percent finding the 2017 receivers and tight ends being better than the group from 2007. If ever there were a poll that should be split 50-50, it’s that. In fact, I would take the 2007 group over the 2017, but that’s only because I saw Randy Moss play in every game and am not sure I will see Rob Gronkowski do the same. 

    Think about the options after the top guys in both groups. Donte’ Stallworth was a get in free agency -- a 27-year-old first-round pick with all the talent in the world and a few damn good seasons in New Orleans under his belt -- and the guy didn’t even have 50 catches for that 2007 team. No, it wasn’t because he wasn’t any good; it was because Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker were so busy putting up a combined 31 touchdowns together that there was barely time for anyone else. 

    Laurence Maroney was the ’07 team’s lead back, but given how much the team threw and the fact that he missed three games, his 835-yard season with an average of 4.5 yards a pop was a lot better than has been remembered. 

    The only thing you can give the 2017 team over the 2007 one is that they figure to be well-rounded. The Patriots’ defense should be better than that ’07 group, even though the 2007 Pats gave up the fourth-fewest points in the league. Damn, the 2007 Patriots were so good.  

    Yes, that ’07 team lost, but it was still the best team in the league by a mile that season. Bad Super Bowl game plan, bad execution, obviously. But overall? There wasn’t a team close to as good as them that season. 

    The expectation is that something similar could play out this season. The Pats are so much better than everyone else that you’d be nuts to rule out 19-0 talk. Yet that hasn’t happened yet, and for now, the most explosive offense the Pats have ever seen — and very well may ever see — will be that 2007 one. They aren’t held in the same regard as the five championships, and for good reason, but to slight that offense — or really that team at all — is foolish. 

    Poll ranks Patriots as NFL's most 'badass' team

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    Poll ranks Patriots as NFL's most 'badass' team

    Five-time Super Bowl champions. Seven-time AFC champs. Fourteen-time AFC East champs. Now, Bill Belichick's Patriots have another title.

    NFL's most "badass" team.

    The Tampa Bay Times polled a panel of 43 NFL writers and asked them for the top three most "badass" teams and players in the NFL.

    MORE PATRIOTS

    The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots came out on top with 29 top-three votes. 

    Here's a sampling of the panelists' comments:

    "They keep winning in a league designed to discourage dynasties." -Terez A. Paylor, Kansas City Star

    "Hands down. They take a three-touchdown lead and keep throwing, and throwing, and don't give a damn what anybody thinks." -Tyler Dunne, Bleacher Report

    "For a decade they've been toying with and laughing at the rest of the league. The biggest bullies on the block." — Ralph Vacchiano, SNY

    "Behind the glitz and glamour of having the game's greatest quarterback, the Patriots ranked among the league's top 10 scoring defenses each of the past five seasons, including No. 1 in 2016." — Ryan Wood, Green Bay Press-Gazette

    The most badass player? Veteran Steelers linebacker James Harrison. The highest-ranked Patriot on the list? Tom Brady at No. 6. Rob Gronkowski was tied with Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack at No. 8. Julian Edelman was among the others receiving votes. 

    Here are the full rankings: 

    MOST BADASS TEAM 

    1. Patriots (29 votes)

    2. Seahawks (27)

    3. Steelers (18)

    4. Raiders (9)

    5. Ravens (8)

    6t. Broncos (6)

    6t. Cowboys (6)

    8. Bengals (4)

    9t. Cardinals (2)

    9t. Packers (2)

    9t. Panthers (2)

    9t. Texans (2)

    Also receiving votes: Chiefs, Falcons, Rams, Titans (1 each)

    MOST BADASS PLAYER

    1. James Harrison, Steelers LB (14 votes)

    2t. Marshawn Lynch, Raiders RB (10)

    2t. J.J. Watt, Texans DE (10)

    4t. Kam Chancellor, Seahawks S (8)

    4t. Ndamukong Suh, Dolphins DT (8)

    6. Tom Brady, Patriots QB (7)

    7. Von Miller, Broncos LB (6)

    8t. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots TE (5)

    8t. Khalil Mack, Raiders LB (5)

    10. Aaron Donald, Rams DT (4)