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Football Notes

Stallworth humbly takes the next step

By Albert R. Breer
August 29, 2010

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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.’’

ANCHORS WEIGHED

Locked-up linemen were Jets’ priority

Mike 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 mark

The 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.’’

Etc.

Forbes says Bears in financial hibernation
The state of the Bears franchise was chronicled in Forbes last week, with the financial publication declaring the team “the greatest unlocked asset in professional sports’’ with a ceiling as high as any NFL operation. The Bears’ estimated worth of $1.067 billion is some $800 million short of its potential value, according to Forbes. The reason? All the built-in advantages the team has. It plays in the NFL’s second-biggest home city and largest single-team market, has a historic downtown stadium renovated in the last decade, and carries a tradition that rivals any other. What’s holding the Bears back? For one, the McCaskey family hasn’t invested in the team the way owners such as Robert Kraft, Jerry Jones, and Daniel Snyder have. The contention there is that they lack the cash flow from outside businesses to fuel the team, but the truth is that most believe it’s a lack of creativity in creating revenue streams. The other part is easier to figure: winning. The Bears have had just six winning seasons and four playoff appearances over the last 18 years. Of course, Snyder hasn’t won a whole lot in Washington, and he’s making money hand over fist, so there’s plenty more to it than that.

Criticism hit ex-Buckeyes hard
After some criticized Jack Tatum following his death last month, many in the community of his alma mater, Ohio State, have come to his defense. “I think he’s a pioneer,’’ said Malcolm Jenkins, the Saints safety and former Buckeye All-American. “They changed the rules because of how he played, and I respect him for that. I don’t see it as controversial. I see it as he was that great. He was that feared.’’ Tatum spoke to the Buckeyes before they played archrival Michigan each year, and “the one thing he always told us was, ‘Hit ’em in the mouth,’ ’’ said Jenkins. Since both Tatum and Jenkins hailed from New Jersey, they had a strong connection. In style of play, it’s like every Buckeye defensive back in the NFL has that tie. Jenkins, Shawn Springs, Nate Clements, and Antoine Winfield possess a physical, aggressive streak. “When I got there, there was no such thing as a finesse corner, a cover corner,’’ Jenkins said. “We hit, and if you trace it back, it all goes back to Jack.’’

Backpedaling could sack morale
The Cardinals can couch the quarterback switch to Derek Anderson any way they want. But they have to know that going back to Matt Leinart won’t be easy. Two years ago, Arizona depicted a Kurt Warner preseason start in similar fashion — nothing to see here, just getting another guy some work. And Warner never looked back. That’s not to say the Cardinals haven’t been happy with Leinart. The former first-round pick clearly showed improved maturity in the 2009 offseason, after the summer benching in 2008, and made strides over the last few months. But these recent developments are stronger signs that Arizona believes that Leinart just isn’t good enough to carry the team. If the Cardinals switch back to Leinart, the problem becomes selling the quarterback to offensive teammates who have seen him yanked in and out of the lineup so many times.

Adding Hue brightens outlook
The Raiders acquired help on both offense (quarterback Jason Campbell) and defense (linebacker Rolando McClain) this offseason, but the biggest pickup may have come in the coaching booth. Hue Jackson was ushered in as offensive coordinator, his third run at the position in the NFL but perhaps his first fair shot. Jackson worked as coordinator under offensive masterminds with college pedigrees in Steve Spurrier in Washington in 2003 and Bobby Petrino in Atlanta in 2007. Both seasons ended with the head coach departing, leaving Jackson without much of a chance to put his stamp on the team. But Jackson’s stock rose the last two years as Ravens quarterbacks coach, and in Oakland he will relieve head coach Tom Cable of play-calling duties. The Raiders were 31st in both total offense and points scored last year. Job No. 1 for Jackson is balancing the run, behind Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, with an improving passing game. But more than that, he’s looking to instill an attitude. “We’re trying to build a bully here,’’ Jackson said. “We want to go back and take our football team and understand what the Raiders’ tradition is.’’

Three and out
Last week, when a scout from an NFC contender was asked about his team’s chances, he launched into some unsolicited gushing over the Packers. And it started with quarterback Aaron Rodgers (left). “I believe he’ll be as good as anyone in the league by the end of this year,’’ he said. Strong praise, and it was backed up by Rodgers’s lights-out effort Thursday against the Colts . . . An under-the-radar but very important player in the early AFC race: Baltimore safety Tom Zbikowski. The 2009 third-round pick has had an outstanding offseason, cutting weight and looking quicker and more decisive in coverage. He’s the man to replace the rehabbing Ed Reed in the short term, and with Baltimore’s issues at corner, safety play will be as important as ever. If Zbikowski shines, the Ravens’ defense should, too . . . Albert Haynesworth continues to generate the headlines in Washington, but another story is that some interesting names could be set free by Mike Shanahan at the final cutdown. There’s a good chance that running back Willie Parker doesn’t make the cut, and gifted but enigmatic 2008 second-round receiver Malcolm Kelly is a possibility to hit the market as well.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at abreer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer. Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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