Stallworth hopes to put injuries behind him
NEW ORLEANS -- He stretched. He exercised. He worked, but Donte' Stallworth was never quite able to avoid the injuries that kept interrupting his career.
Since the New Orleans Saints made Stallworth a first round pick in 2002, he has played in 24 games, 11 last year, 13 his rookie year.
This year the wide receiver expects things to be different.
"I've spent a lot of time really working on my legs, my ham strings, everything," Stallworth said. "It's frustrating not to be out there every game. I'm determined to do it this year."
Stallworth has been the flashiest of receivers since he dazzled Tennessee fans as a redshirt freshman in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl -- catching eight passes and scoring two touchdowns as the Vols beat Nebraska.
It's no wonder the Saints saw Stallworth as a big-play receiver well worth a first-round pick, expecting him to balance Joe Horn's speed giving New Orleans a second dimension on offense.
Stallworth has had moments that have justified the Saints' faith. He has 11 career touchdowns, eight of them have been 28 yards or longer. Of his 67 career catches, 26 have been 16 yards or more.
"Donte' has the speed to make a big difference out there," said wide receiver coach Jimmy Robinson. "We need him to be healthy and on the field."
Stallworth thought last year would be different.
Plagued with poor flexibility, Stallworth felt the stiffness contributed to the hamstring injuries that had hit him throughout his career. He has been working with the Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinic in Sarasota, Fla., and Aaron Mattes.
"It's a really deep stretching technique he taught me," Stallworth said. "It makes you a lot more flexible. I think it really helps."
Stallworth began working out a month after the 2003 season ended. Although he was already slim at 6-foot, 198 pounds, he said he dropped some body fat during the offseason which should help him this year.
"I got leaner," Stallworth said. "I also built up some muscle."
Stallworth has always worked out, but now he's learning more about how his body works and what to do to keep it healthy, he said.
"I think my conditioning has been good, but now I know my legs get fatigued because of the way I run," Stallworth said. "I'm a power runner but I have to learn to pace myself at practice and save it for games. Instead of always running at 190 miles an hour, I have to learn how to practice."
The frustration of missing games is almost as bad as an injury, Stallworth said. But when a hamstring pops or an ankle turns, there's not much a wide receiver can do.
"It's not a case of playing hurt," he said. "Nobody wants a one-leg receiver out there."
Stallworth has been all the Saints expected when he's healthy. Included in his resume are games like the season opener last year when he had 101 yards on eight catches at Seattle. At Atlanta, Stallworth shook off a tackler and zipped 69 yards for a touchdown. Against Dallas he caught a short pass and turned it into a 76-yard TD.
"He's the kind of receiver every quarterback wants on his team," quarterback Aaron Brooks said. "With him healthy and the other receivers we have, we expect to be able to move the ball in the air."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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