Patriots

"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."

The Patriots' only healthy QB offers little insight on Brady injury

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The Patriots' only healthy QB offers little insight on Brady injury

FOXBORO -- Brian Hoyer did his best Sgt, Schultz impression Thursday afternoon.

He saw nothing, he knows nothing and, had we asked him, Hoyer probably would have denied even Tom Brady’s existence. The Patriots backup quarterback has been thrust into the spotlight because of the right-hand injury Brady suffered in practice Wednesday. Though Brady appeared at the media access portion of today’s session, the team listed him on the injury report as not having participated. That would mean Hoyer -  as the team’s only healthy signal caller - had to get more reps than usual, right? 

“Define what is usual,” he said. “Since I’ve been here there’s been days where I’ve taken a lot of reps and days where I’ve taken any. I just do what’s asked of me.”

MORE BRADY:

So, you were asked to do more today?

“You’ll have to check the injury report. I don’t know if they put that on there or not.”

Okay then. This was just the beginning of a question-and-answer session that provided many of the former and almost none of the latter. Hoyer said he “wasn’t there” when the injury happened. When asked if Brady threw any passes today, the normally genial Hoyer paused before saying tersely, “you have to ask somebody else that question. I’m not going to answer that question.”

There were also a couple of “I’m not going to speak for him” or “you have to ask him” responses. Not unexpected given the nature of the queries but also handled better by every player we spoke to today, from Trey Flowers saying he’s not a hand doctor to James White joking the world will never know how Brady was injured to Kyle Van Noy saying of Brady: “He always looks good. He’s handsome”.

What Hoyer did have a good handle on was what he needs to do to be ready if his number does get called Sunday in the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  

“I prepare every week like I’m going to play,” he said. “Whether I do or don’t...that’s not really up to me. I did the one thing I can benefit from since I was the backup here - I played a lot of football. I’ve been a starter for three different teams. I know how to prepare as a starter. Whether I’m given those reps or not, each rep I’m not getting I take as a mental rep. I stand back there and I go through and I try to think who I’d go to, who would I’d make the Mike [middle linebacker] on this play. Whether I’m getting the reps or not I’m always preparing to play because you never know when your name is going to be called.”

The Patriots hope it doesn’t come to that. Hell, maybe even Hoyer hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“If I don’t play, that’s good for our team.”

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Brady injury has moved Patriots-Jaguars line 1.5 points

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Brady injury has moved Patriots-Jaguars line 1.5 points

FOXBORO -- You would have to be either supremely confident or supremely behind on current events to place a bet on the Patriots in this weekend's AFC title game. 

Tom Brady suffered a hand injury in Wednesday's practice and he was held out of Thursday's session (for all but the stretching portion), leaving him one final chance to practice on Friday before the Jaguars make their way to Gillette Stadium for a shot at a Super Bowl berth. 

MORE BRADY:

It's unclear how Brady's hand issue will impact his ability to play on Sunday. The expectation is that he will play, but his effectiveness . . . for now seems somewhat uncertain. And the line has moved as a result. 

The Patriots were once nine-point favorites at Caesars Palace, and they are now favored by 7.5 points. Westgate's line made the same move from Patriots -9 to Patriots -7.5. 

For those who feel as though Brady will be OK as he takes on the league's top-ranked passing defense, this represents a golden opportunity. For everyone else, this is probably a good time to focus your gambling efforts on the NFC Championship Game.