Stallworth humbly takes the next step
It’s been 20 months since Donte’ Stallworth suited up in a real NFL game, and it’ll be a while longer before he ends that drought.
Stallworth broke his foot last night in the Ravens’ preseason game against the Giants and may be sidelined until the team’s bye week Oct. 31. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Stallworth will have a screw placed in his foot.
When Stallworth finally returns to action, the embattled wide receiver, after 24 days in jail and a year of house arrest, knows his actions won’t be measured solely in catches and yards. These days, everything counts.
And the 29-year-old is fine with that. The spotlight will be on how Stallworth handles his situation as he restarts his career with the Ravens 18 months after an accident led to his conviction for DUI manslaughter and one-year suspension by the NFL.
“Everything I do is magnified, and by that I mean it’s magnified by myself,’’ Stallworth said. “Every route I run, everything I do after practice, the extra stretching, all of it is magnified, because I haven’t played in a whole year. That’s the first time for me since I started playing when I was 10 or 11 years old.
“So I have a bigger appreciation for everything.’’
The death of 59-year-old Mario Reyes is something Stallworth will never move past completely. Stallworth was behind the wheel that morning in Miami, and the car he was driving killed the pedestrian crossing the street.
“It’s something that will always be with me,’’ Stallworth said.
But just because he can’t move past it completely doesn’t mean he can’t move on with his life, and that’s what all the time between then and now has been about.
Stallworth collects inspirational quotes, and he found one last week that could sum up his mission since that tragic morning:
Don’t let your past be a nemesis to your future.
Poignant as those words might be, Stallworth didn’t need to hear them before living them. He’s been doing so for quite some time.
Even as his legal situation was being worked out, Stallworth went to work with South Florida fitness guru Pete Bommarito, a trainer well-known in NFL circles who counts Fred Taylor, Chad Ochocinco, and Anquan Boldin among his clients. After his release from prison July 10, 2009, Stallworth resumed training, and started some pretty extensive film study of himself.
And when football season started, he watched the NFL. And watched. And watched.
Hard as it was to not be playing, tuning in helped Stallworth feel connected to the game.
“It was part of my therapy, not being able to play,’’ he said. “It was also good flipping from game to game and tweeting about it, giving my commentary and seeing that people were interested in the things I said.’’
Another step came in the winter as he continued training, when a number of prospective draftees joined Bommarito’s group. Stallworth helped guide those players, and by giving other receivers (among them Patriots third-round pick Taylor Price) tutelage, he was preparing for the mental assimilation back into the NFL.
By the time Stallworth worked out for the Ravens in February, he was ready. A stopwatch could tell you that.
The Ravens clocked him at just under 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash on each of his two runs. Initially, Stallworth was “a little upset,’’ since he’d run “some 4.2s’’ with Bommarito. But after being told it was a slow track, he started to focus on how fast he felt, and that was enough to calm him down.
Within days, the Ravens signed him.
“Physically, everything’s there,’’ Stallworth said. “I missed a year of running routes against live defenses consistently, and that’s something I wanted to expedite during [organized team activities] and minicamp. You can run routes by yourself, and throw with a quarterback all day, but it’s not being in a game.
“So it’s just the little things I’ve had to catch up [on], working against different defenses, running against man coverage, zones. But the most important thing is that I got back and I trained my tail off to get there.’’
But as he moves forward, he’s still taking from the past. He’ll forever remember those who supported him through a very difficult time, including ex-Patriot teammates such as Vince Wilfork, Laurence Maroney, Ty Warren, Mike Vrabel, Kevin Faulk, Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, and Randy Moss. Stallworth was particularly close with Benjamin Watson, Sammy Morris, and Wes Welker, and those friendships were valued as Stallworth made it through.
“When I felt like the world was coming to an end, knowing they had my back, that helped a lot,’’ he said.
Linebackers coach Matt Patricia and the Patriots training staff chimed in as well. And while most just sent text messages, Stallworth got a thoughtful, lengthy e-mail from Tom Brady.
“That was a special year and a special team,’’ Stallworth said. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing football. Getting to learn from coach [Bill] Belichick and Josh [McDaniels], playing with and learning from the older guys there. It was just a real special year . . . Even though we didn’t win it all, I still carry that feeling that we did.’’
Professionally, the past has taught Stallworth to appreciate his opportunities more than ever. Having your livelihood taken away will do that, and this receiver will never take any of it for granted again.
“I’m definitely blessed to be in this position,’’ he said. “And I know that.’’
Locked-up linemen were Jets’ priorityMike Tannenbaum (left) is fond of saying that his first draft as Jets general manager, in 2006, actually started Sept. 25, 2005. That day, against the Jaguars, New York lost its top two quarterbacks, Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler, in a span of seven snaps.
The following April, with Tannenbaum elevated to GM and Eric Mangini installed as coach, that afternoon resonated. With the fourth overall pick, there was some feeling that the Jets should take Matt Leinart or Jay Cutler. But Tannenbaum thought otherwise.
“Even if John Elway was going to be available to us, we knew that if you couldn’t block Jason Taylor or Richard Seymour, it wouldn’t matter,’’ he explained.
So the Jets took left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and then drafted center Nick Mangold 29th overall (with the pick acquired for John Abraham). Four years later, the two are cornerstones of one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.
Ferguson signed a six-year, $60 million extension in July, and Mangold got a seven-year, $54.1 million deal last week. But what’s more interesting is that Tannenbaum never saw the collective bargaining agreement as a major roadblock, mainly because both sides were motivated and willing to bend.
“We certainly have talked about [the CBA] internally,’’ Tannenbaum said. “We don’t know what the system will look like, but we know we wanted these guys here no matter what.’’
The big one — Darrelle Revis — is still out there. But for a team that has a number of players on expiring contracts this year, having rewarded half of their “Core Four’’ (Revis, Mangold, Ferguson, and linebacker David Harris) in this climate sends a powerful message.
“They’re both good guys, and we’re fortunate to have drafted both of them,’’ Tannenbaum said. “The fact that they were both first-round picks, so they’ve handled being paid well before, and love football and like being Jets was all part of it.’’
Q AND EH?
Goodell’s message missed the markThe Browns were one of seven teams visited by Roger Goodell this summer, as part of the commissioner’s effort to discuss the league’s uncertain future with players.
And when that meeting took place Aug. 5, the players felt they didn’t get answers.
“The overwhelming feeling was, ‘What was that all about? Why is he wasting our time?’ ’’ said linebacker Scott Fujita, a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee who’s in his ninth season in the league. “That was the consensus here, and guys from other teams I’ve talked to say the same thing.
“Guys are eager to ask questions. He’s not answering them. Guys are coming in there with simple, straightforward questions, and the response is kind of disappointing.’’
Fujita’s contention was that the commissioner was evasive on key topics, to the point where several Cleveland players left the room calling him “Dodger Goodell.’’
The Browns also took issue with Goodell’s line of, as Fujita put it, “Things have a way of getting worked out at the 11th hour.’’ Maybe the players took it the wrong way, but most saw that as a veiled reference to pushing the union into a panic situation, by putting players in financial peril through a lockout.
Another problem the Cleveland players had was Goodell posing as an arbitrator between the sides.
“He works for the owners,’’ Fujita said. “To come in and say, ‘I’m a liaison, I work for the game,’ I mean, come on. We all know that’s not the truth. Does he want the game to grow? Yeah, I believe that. But to open the way he did, and act like he’s not working for the owners was a slap in the face. Players are smarter than that.’’
Fujita says, in a broader sense, that the players want to be treated more as business partners and less like employees.
“It’s more than a management/employee situation, because the players and coaches really are the product,’’ Fujita said. “The most frustrating thing for us is that owners don’t seem like they want to get it done. If you want to get it done, let’s get it done.’’
Albert R. Breer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer. Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.