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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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Donte Stallworth meets the media Tuesday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. (WEEI.com photo)

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.

“I’m a lot more mature now than I was then,” Stallworth said Tuesday during a break between workouts at Gillette Stadium. “I 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.

“Back then, I was really more relying on my talent,” said the 6-foot, 220-pounder. “Now 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.

“The 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. “It’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 “interesting” experience.

“It was a little weird feeling. It was kind of surreal,” he said. “But 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.

“It’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. “We’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:

Did you ever want to go anywhere else? “Being here it’s obviously a special place and I’ve always had a lot of respect for Mr. Kraft and really the whole organization and a lot of the players here. Still got a lot of friends on the team, so I just thought that it made a lot of sense for me to come back here and try to help this team win some ballgames.”

Does it feel like 2007 all over again? “Well, that was so long ago, so now it’s five years later, so a lot has changed since then. Within that process last year, being with the Redskins, we didn’t make the playoffs. That’s something that I wanted to have an opportunity with me getting a little older and up in age, just wanting to have an opportunity to put a championship at the end of my name, and I think we’re one of many teams that has an opportunity to do that this year.”

What’s it take to come in and have success immediately in Patriots offense? “I think the main thing is, this offense is pretty much different than any other offense, at least that I’ve been in, in the NFL. It’s not a West Coast offense; it’s got its own deal and obviously it’s had a lot of success, even with Josh leaving — either in ‘08 or ‘08 — and still being successful here. And Josh took it to Denver and St. Louis and they put up some good numbers. So you just have to put in the time and it’s not like any other offense, so something you really have to do is put in the time and it’s like anything else. Once you get the hang of it and get familiarity with the whole thing it can obviously do some good things for you.”

What’s the expectation for when practices start Monday? “Do your job. [laughter]. We didn’t have an offseason last year with the lockout. This year it’s a little different, with the rule changes. It’s always exciting when you can get back out there, put the helmets on, when you can finally start easing out of the weight room and conditioning part of it, and get back into practicing and football-specific things, then that’s always the fun part. Guys are excited. Obviously I feel we had a good draft class, picked up some guys in the offseason. Right now we’re just trying to put this thing together. We got I’m not sure how many coaching sessions, but Monday will be the fun day and I’m sure everyone is looking forward to it.”

Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Lloyd, Britt Davis, Chad Ochocinco
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