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Five years later, Donte Stallworth ready for his second stint in New England

05.15.12 at 1:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO — A little older and a little wiser, wide receiver Donte Stallworth is ready for his second act with the Patriots.

The well-traveled Stallworth, who spent the 2007 season in New England before leaving as a free agent, jumped at the opportunity to return to the Patriots, signing a one-year deal as a free agent in March. It was a chance to not only go back to the scene of some of his greatest professional success, but to do so with an increased wisdom, one he confessed he didn’€™t necessarily have in his first go-round with New England.

‘€œI’€™m a lot more mature now than I was then,’€ Stallworth said Tuesday during a break between workouts at Gillette Stadium. ‘€œI feel like I’€™m playing better. I’€™m in a better place mentally, physically and I just felt like at that time I was still trying to mature and grow into a professional athlete. I feel like I’€™m a lot further down the road than I was last time.

‘€œBack then, I was really more relying on my talent,’€ said the 6-foot, 220-pounder. ‘€œNow that I’€™m going into my 10th year, I think I run better routes now and understand different coverages and what teams are trying to do.’€

The 31-year-old Stallworth, who had 46 catches for 697 yards and three touchdowns with the Patriots in 2007, said a large portion of that increased off-field maturity is because of what he went through in 2009 when he was charged with DUI manslaughter following an accident in Florida. He spent time in jail, and was suspended for the duration of the 2009 season.

‘€œThe year I was out and just sitting around and watching my teammates play and watching my friends play, it was not a good feeling,’€ Stallworth said. ‘€œIt’€™s the same, even when you’€™re hurt. Guys never want to miss games. Anytime you miss something that you appreciate in life or that you love in life, if you have an opportunity to get it back, you always have a better appreciate for it next time.’€

Stallworth said that after spending time with the Browns (2008), Ravens (2010) and Redskins (2011), walking back into the New England locker room was an ‘€œinteresting’€ experience.

‘€œIt was a little weird feeling. It was kind of surreal,’€ he said. ‘€œBut honestly, I think it took about a week or so to get adjusted and to really realize that, hey, I really am back; it’€™s not just a dream. It’€™s been good being back and seeing a lot of the same, familiar faces — friendly faces. So it’€™s been good. It’€™s been five years, but not much has changed other than all the restaurants and stuff around here. That’€™s a big difference.’€

Stallworth enters a crowded field at wide receiver — the Patriots have loaded up this offseason at a position they were already pretty well stocked coming off the 2011 season. Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Gonzalez and Brandon Lloyd join a group that includes Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Britt Davis, Matthew Slater and Chad Ochocinco.

‘€œIt’€™s going to be good competition; we’€™re all friends, we all have known each other for awhile and respected each other’€™s games, so we’€™re going to make each other better,’€ Stallworth said. ‘€œWe’€™ve been doing that now, with the workouts and really having fun, and the real fun gets to start on Monday when we start practicing. Who knows how it will play out, but I’€™m feeling good; I’€™m feeling healthy.’€

Here are some more highlights of Stallworth’€™s Q&A with the media:
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Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Lloyd, Britt Davis, Chad Ochocinco

Markell Carter welcomes the idea of joining Patriots’ rookies to get extra work

05.14.12 at 4:14 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Of all the players at rookie minicamp this past weekend at Gillette Stadium, the one that could have taken issue with the fact that he was there was Markell Carter.

The defensive end/outside linebacker was maybe the most productive member of the Patriots’€™ practice squad last season — it was a rare occasion when he didn’€™t have a black practice jersey in the locker signifying that he was one of the practice players of the week.

But the glass-is-half-full Carter looked on the opportunity to take part in rookie minicamp as a blessing. In a session with the media before heading to practice, he was able to convey just how important the weekend of work is for him, especially since he didn’€™t get a chance to get into a game last season.

‘€œI’€™m getting a lot of work in that I wasn’€™t able to get last year, so this weekend my main focus has been getting better, just trying to grow in the defense and pick up on those things I missed last year,’€ he said.

It was an up-and-down year for Carter. He was a sixth-round pick out of Central Arkansas, but didn’€™t get the necessary foundation for a rookie heading into his first season in the NFL because of the lockout. Carter and the rest of the rookies got a late start, and that affected their overall development.

‘€œOf course, whenever you can get a couple months in before that’€™s always going to help. I got here [and] on the first day, I got a playbook about this big on my desk and the next morning I was expected to know it all,’€ said Carter, recalling last season. ‘€œSo to just have that time to prepare and just feel comfortable with the teammates, that means a lot, too.’€

Carter made the roster, and landed on the practice squad. While there was no game action, the Patriots thought enough of him to give him a bump in pay from the usual practice squad contract of $150,000 to more than $300,000. It was an investment in their future.

‘€œThere was no bitterness that I wasn’€™t able to play,’€ said the 6-foot-4 Carter. ‘€œBill [Belichick] is a great coach. Whenever he says I’€™m ready, I’€™m ready. The pay raise let you know that they’€™re interested in you, and whenever your boss gives you a pay raise, you’€™re going to feel good about yourself.
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Read More: Andre Carter, Bill Belichick, chandler jones, Dont'a Hightower

Quarterback Mike Hartline goes from one Hall of Famer tutor to another

05.14.12 at 12:34 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When he first joined the Patriots as a free agent in March, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (who spent five seasons with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis), joked that when it comes to working with quarterbacks, he has a ‘€œvery strict Hall of Famer-only policy.’€

Mike Hartline can make the same tongue-in-cheek boast. The quarterback, a Kentucky product, spent last season as an understudy working with Manning and the Colts. Now, after signing with the Patriots in January, he’€™s doing the same thing with Tom Brady.

‘€œEvery player is different. Obviously, those guys are both arguably two of the best ever, so when you can get to work with them and to talk to them a little bit, you try to pick their brain,’€ Hartline said of Manning and Brady.

‘€œThey’€™re leagues beyond where I’€™m at. To try to dig too deep can get confusing sometimes. So you try to go at your own pace, you do your own style and hopefully, the things you do, show with the coaches and you get an opportunity to stick around.’€

Hartline, who took part in Patriots rookie minicamp this past week at Gillette Stadium (it was OK because he hasn’€™t spent six games or more games on a team’€™s active, inactive or reserve list), said that to this point, Brady has been ‘€œnothing but supportive’€ since he joined the franchise earlier this year.

‘€œBut at the end of the day, I have to work by myself,’€ said Hartline, who passed for 3,178 yards with 23 touchdowns as a senior at Kentucky. ‘€œI have to go out there and try and do everything that I can in order to get an opportunity to be a part of something special. But he’€™s been great. A real nice guy. I look forward to working with him.’€

Hartline is well aware of his situation: right now, he’s fourth on a depth chart that includes Brady, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. However, has a couple of things in his favor: First, he’€™s the brother of Brian Hartline, who has spent the last three seasons in the NFL (two of them as a fairly regular starter) as a wide receiver with the Dolphins. Thanks to his brother, he already has some insight as to what to expect at the professional level.

‘€œWe look to each other more of moral support, I want to say. We never really try to tell each other how to play, or what to be like,’€ Hartline said of his brother. ‘€œJust to mentally stay positive. Sometimes things won’€™t go your way. To have a guy like that to be a support system is really beneficial.’€

He also stood to benefit from his situation: He was the only quarterback on the roster (among the invited players) at camp, and so he got plenty of work in practice situations. In addition, he was also to benefit from more individual coaching, as the numbers at camp were far less than what they might be during the regular season, and more conducive to one-on-one coaching.

‘€œI was excited when they said I could do it,’€ Hartline said of the opportunity to take part. ‘€œI wasn’€™t sure with rules if I could or not, but I’€™m happy that I am. I’€™m learning a lot every day. Obviously, with CBA rules, it’€™s a little bit difficult to get more time in than you can with you coach, but I try to put in the extra time — come early, stay late. And do everything I can to be ready for the next step.’€

Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Brian Hartline, Brian Hoyer, Mike Hartline

Resetting some of the highlights on the Patriots’ schedule for the next four months

05.14.12 at 9:02 am ET
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Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights of the Patriots’ schedule for the next few months:

May 24, 31 and June 7: Organized team activities
June 12-14: Minicamp
Late July: Start of training camps across the league
Aug. 9: Preseason Game 1, home vs. Saints, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 20: Preseason Game 2, home vs. Eagles, 8 p.m.
Aug. 24: Preseason Game 3, at Buccaneers, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 29: Preseason Game 4, at Giants, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9: Regular-season opener, at Titans, 1 p.m.

Observations from final practice of rookie minicamp

05.12.12 at 3:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Saturday marked the last of two practices held during rookie minicamp.  Media access was allowed for light positional drills and stretching during the outdoor practice.

Sixth-round draft choice and former Ohio State walk-on Nate Ebner practiced after being relegated to the stationary bike for the media portion of Friday’s workout. The safety didn’t partake in stretching drills, but later joined his peers for positional drills.

Bill Belichick’s son, Steve, took on his role as a coaching assistant while helping conduct a kickoff drill.

Brad Herman embraces opportunity with Patriots, but realizes he has a long way to go

05.12.12 at 3:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — With a 6-foot-five, 253-pound frame, undrafted rookie tight end Brad Herman unquestionably has the physical tools to translate his game to the NFL level. Saturday afternoon, while meeting with the media at Gillette Stadium for the first time as a member of the Patriots, the Iowa product emphasized maturity and an awareness that school is out and it’s time to get to work.

“They make it clear that this is a business and you should treat it like a business, both from their standpoint and our standpoint,” Herman said. “We have full-time jobs here. You don’t have to worry about school or putting to much on younger kids. Now, we’re adults. This is our job, so you’re going to have a more complex playbook.”

Herman comes to the Patriots under the tutelage of Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz, who served under Bill Belichick from 1993-95 as an offensive line coach with the Browns. His understanding of the shrewd lifestyle of the NFL was matched by the personal growth he said he needs as a player to make the Patriots squad, especially with the roster already rife with talented tight ends.

“I can develop in all areas — that’s the important thing,” Herman said. “Compared to these guys, I’m nothing. I’m just trying to learn from them, get better, and get to the level that the coaches want me at, and what I need to be at to play to my best abilities.

“You’re at the same level as they are,” he continued. “They are just men, like you, at the end of the day just trying to have a job. That’s how you have to treat it. You can’t be star struck.”

Herman’s numbers improved vastly his last year at Iowa. In 12 games last season, he had eight catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Ferentz ran a pro-style offense at Iowa which benefited Herman, but nevertheless, the intricacies of the pro game are something he hopes to adapt to with time, all while proving to the coaching staff he belongs.

“Some things I’m used to as far as the coaching technique,” Herman said. “Ferentz and Belichick are tied into each other, I know that. It helps, but overall I really don’t know much at this point. It’s still a huge learning curve.

“You go out there and try to establish yourself,” he said. “Do what you can to help the team, give your full effort and it’s up to the coaches to decide. If they think you’re good enough then you make the team, if not, try your luck elsewhere.”

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Patriots rookie Justin Francis gets a chance to renew his friendship with Steve Belichick

05.12.12 at 12:52 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Justin Francis recalls his first meeting with the Belichick family: It was his sophomore year at Rutgers, and he was sitting next to Steve Belichick in a math class.

‘€œYo, you’€™re coach Belichick’€™s son,’€ Francis said to the son of the Patriots’€™ head coach. ‘€œI suck at math, so don’€™t judge me, all right?

The two soon struck up a friendship, one that deepened shortly after Steve Belichick walked on the Rutgers team as a long snapper. He and Francis became teammates, and now, the two have been able to extend their relationship: this spring, Francis was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent, while Steve was added to the New England coaching staff as an assistant.

‘€œIt’€™s been a good little journey,’€ Francis said Saturday before practice at Gillette Stadium. ‘€œSteve has been a great friend for me for quite some time.’€

Francis said there are ‘€œa lot of similarities’€ between the father and son, and it’€™s been good having a familiar face on the coaching staff.

‘€œIt’€™s kind of weird,’€ looking at the younger Belichick as a coach instead of a teammate. ‘€œBut like I said, he’€™s a good friend. I know he’€™s never going to direct me down the wrong path. I take that and I keep that. I’€™ll always respect him. I respect his job. I respect him as a friend as well.

‘€œWe haven’€™t really sat down and got into anything like that. He’€™ll give me a wink and keep my spirits up — ‘€˜Hey, let’€™s work.’€™ And I’€™ll tell him and give him a nod like, ‘€˜Let’€™s work.’€™ Just keeping my spirits up. I’€™m keeping his spirits up. We know we’€™re going to go for a tit-for-tat thing.’€
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Read More: Alex Silvestro, Devin McCourty, Justin Francis, Steve Belichick
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