They called him “Hands”.
When Donté Stallworth was in college at the University of Tennessee, he earned that moniker by making seemingly impossible catches. Even so, his toughest task since has been catching on and sticking with an NFL team.
Now that he has caught on with the New England Patriots, he needs to make a football move and go as far as he can without getting nailed – and hold on to this one.
Selected #13 overall by the New Orleans Saints in the 2002 NFL Draft, Stallworth found early success, yet also found himself bouncing around the league as trouble seemed to find him after the Saints traded him to Philadelphia in 2006.
Hamstring issues and being placed on the league’s Substance abuse program ended his days with the Eagles, and since he has had short stints with New England, Cleveland, Dade County Jail, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins and now, back with the Patriots.
The Patriots brought Stallworth back on Tuesday after placing receiver Julian Edelman on season-ending injured reserve. Most believe that the only reason that the Patriots brought Stallworth back was that fellow former New England receiver Deion Branch, who was released with an injury compensation earlier this season, is still battling his own hamstring injury and not healthy enough to contribute.
Even so, Stallworth understands his place and appreciates his chance to prove his worth…and Branch’s still-intact locker in the Patriots’ locker room provides the talented speedster with motivation each time he passes by it.
Since being released by New England late in training camp, he has been working out close to his Miami area home, waiting for a call. He fielded invitations from the Dolphins and Bills to work out for them, but was never offered a contract by either of New England’s division rivals.
But he knew it was just a matter of time before an NFL team became depleted with injury and would be in need of his fresh 32 year old legs and sticky fingers – and didn’t become discouraged as week after week passed with no offers being thrown his way.
Luckily enough, that NFL team became the same one that released him in training camp.
The signing makes sense for a number of reasons. With Edelman’s season over and with Tight End Rob Gronkowski still on the mend with a broken forearm, the Patriots’ receiving corps became thin, bordering on anorexic, with only Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd the only true wide receivers remaining on the roster.
Stallworth has a great rapport with quarterback Tom Brady and has general knowledge of the offensive system, though the playbook has evolved since training camp.
“That’s one of the things that enabled me to come back here, the fact I am familiar with the offense and played in the offense before,” said Stallworth, who is all business as he attempts to prove that he can perform up to his 1st round draft pick status. “It made it a lot easier, but being out as long as I have. It’s like I’m back in school studying. I’ll be studying hard every day.”
The best case scenario is for Stallworth to come in and provide the Patriots a speedy deep threat to stretch the field for New England’s potent underneath game, but if it were just a matter of being fast and having great hands, Stallworth would never have been released in the first place.
New England’s brain trust rightfully decided to go with a tight end heavy roster and playbook, but kept Stallworth and Branch on the speed dial in the event of injury, of which the offense has experienced plenty. Branch returned briefly but was mostly pedestrian due to eroding dexterity and a nagging hammy and was released.
The theory of determinism states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen. Injuries happened, and the conditions dictated that the Patriots needed another receiver. New England could have gone in a different direction, but Stallworth kept working, stayed in shape and never gave up hope.
“My main thing over these past few months was to stay in good shape and train hard, and hope for an opportunity.” Stallworth said Wednesday, “Thankfully I got it now.”
Yes, he has his opportunity. Now he needs to live up to his college nickname and hold on to it.