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pakowitz 05-05-2003 02:02 AM

SAINTS MINI-CAMP Stallworth knows what it's all about now


NEW ORLEANS - Donté Stallworth remembers last year's first mini-camp in a not-so-fond manner.

"Last year, it felt like we were out here for two weeks," he said.

Nope, just like the current one, it was only three days. The then-rookie wide receiver from Tennessee got his introduction to the NFL in the heat of a typical New Orleans Saints set of practice sessions.

"He hit the wall big time. They about carried him out of here Sunday afternoon," recalled Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy. "You don't know until you go pro. You can train with professional trainers, but you don't know until you get out there.

It's a different situation this go-round for Stallworth, who's now got a year of experience under his belt, a breakthrough season at that.

The Saints used the 13th pick in the 2002 NFL draft to select Stallworth. He caught 42 passes for 594 yards and set a Saints rookie record with eight touchdown passes, including scores in his first four games as a pro.

Shortly after that fourth touchdown, Stallworth pulled his left hamstring warming up for the second half of the Saints' loss at Detroit. He went on to miss three complete games before returning for limited action for the next few weeks.

It was his second bout with hamstring problems during his rookie campaign, the first coming in training camp with a strain in his right leg.

Stallworth jokingly tried to act like he didn't know what reporters were talking about when questions about his hamstrings came up this year, but he said he plans to see at least one of the experts St. Louis Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce used to overcome frequent hamstring injuries that slowed him early in his career.

He's worked with New Orleans-area fitness guru Mackie Shilstone on a new stretching regimen to prevent a recurrence.

"I feel great. I feel like I'm back in college again," Stallworth said. "I'm trying to put that behind me."

Stallworth is also trying to put behind him a rookie season filled with fines for being late to meetings and other transgressions. He wouldn't say exactly how much he'd been fined, although he said it was significant and he is going to try to be more mature this season.

He says it's all part of his focus to elevate his play even more this season. Stallworth says he figures Saints fans have seen only about half of what he's capable of.

"I thought about what I did," he said. "Nobody's seen what I can really do."

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