From draft picks to veteran cast-offs, the New England Patriots have looked to fill the No. 2 wide receiver spot with a number of players over the years.
Perhaps, one of the most interesting stories in camp this year is the return of Donte' Stallworth. Just over a year after what was arguably the most tragic loss of his playing career in Super Bowl XLII, he suffered.
Stallworth relayed some of the excitement he felt when presented the opportunity to return.
Anytime you can come back to a great organization like this—great fans, great people here in the city—it's always a plus, and there was no doubt in my mind that if they'd welcomed me the opportunity to come back, that I'd jump at the opportunity.
The fans and people in the city may have been perks to his return, but make no mistake, being in a winning organization, with an elite quarterback, was the foundation for Stallworth's return.
That, and perhaps, the hope that he could reclaim what was a successful career, until his exodus to Cleveland following the 2007 season, were instrumental.
Stallworth has yet to match his production from his one season with the Patriots in the four years (three seasons for Stallworth) since he left the Patriots.
The hope is that Stallworth can rediscover the chemistry he had with quarterback Tom Brady in the 2007 season; he was the team's third-leading receiver in receiving yards and fourth in receptions.
He says Brady "still has it" in terms of his arm strength but adds that things aren't exactly the same in the offense, even with Josh McDaniels back in the fold.
I think it's evolved because when Josh left, they incorporated some things while he was gone. 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 last time. ...That's what training camp is for: You put in a lot of stuff, you see what sticks, you do what you do best and you try to work on that as much as you can.
Of course, it will help that he's familiar with the system, but the reclamation goes beyond just his production; this is about reclaiming himself as an individual and a leader.
And according to head coach Bill Belichick, Stallworth is on the right track—a track he's been on since he was with the Patriots in 2007.
I would say Donte' has really matured a lot. Since he was here in '07, he's been a very positive example and influence with what he does on a daily basis, but also with some of the things he's done with other players on the team. I think he's shown a lot more leadership, he's very professional athlete—he really takes his job very seriously and acts in a very professional way. He's a good example for all of us on a daily basis, and I would say that's definitely grown since he's been here in '07. He's been through a lot, but he handles himself very well.
That's high praise from a head coach who takes character as seriously as any coach in the NFL.
His praise for Stallworth's work ethic and leadership qualities was met with a modest response by Stallworth when the media spoke to the veteran wide receiver after practice.
I really don't think of myself like that, I just try to go out and help out the young guys as much as I can because I was once that guy. Anything 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. Mainly, I just try to do the things that I've learned throughout my career.
He didn't have a chance to be a true leader when he was with the team in 2007; that role was occupied long before his arrival, but he leaned on the veterans that helped build the Patriots dynasty, and he's putting the teachings of those mentors to use.
When I was here in '07, it was my fifth or sixth year in the league and I was one of the youngest guys on the team: [Mike] Vrabel, [Tedy] Bruschi, Rodney [Harrison], [Troy] Brown, Randy [Moss]; being around all those guys were super-veterans, and I was just a veteran at the time. Now, 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, I try to help those guys out the way the other guys helped me out.
Being charged with DUI manslaughter is about as much of a wake-up call as one can get, and while Stallworth may not have realized it at the time, he was fortunate to get that next opportunity.
I always try to keep positive as best I can. That honestly never crossed my mind, but now looking back on it, knowing how blessed I am to still be here doing what I love to do, and being around the fellas is truly a blessing.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes obtained first-hand.
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