It didn't take coach Jim Haslett long to identify the player who had made the greatest strides throughout the Saints offseason strength and conditioning program, which began in late March.
In a flash, Haslett pointed to a player who has that kind of speed -- third-year wide receiver Donte Stallworth.
Plagued by muscle pulls and ankle injuries in his first two seasons, Stallworth took some giant steps spring toward becoming the player the Saints think he should be, Haslett said.
The Saints are hoping that Stallworth's impressive spring will turn into a breakout year when it counts.
Stallworth's health has been a major sticking point since coming to the Saints as a first-round draft pick in 2002. In his two seasons, he's missed eight games because of injuries and has started just 10 of the 24 games he's played in.
There have been glimpses of his ability, but the Saints know that his 67 receptions for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns are just the tip of the iceberg. The problem: his tightly-wound quadriceps and hamstrings have been every bit as frustrating to the coaches as his speed has been to opposing defenses.
Stallworth, a 6-foot, 197-pounder, knows it. He's whipped himself into shape, turning some unneeded body fat into muscle with a strict conditioning regimen that began a month after the 2003 season ended.
"I'm more lean this year, I've dropped some fat and made muscle," said Stallworth, whose body fat dropped from 9 percent to 3.5 percent. "The best part is my body feels a lot different.
"I'm doing a lot of different things, but we're putting a lot of emphasis on the hamstrings," he said. "I've got a unique body. I have to stretch often and get a massage a couple of times each week."
Like Haslett, new wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson is certainly pleased with what he has seen.
"Obviously, the first thing you notice about Donte is that he's physically gifted like few people at his position," said Robinson. "Donte's had a good offseason and I think he's kind of figured out what he has to do to keep in shape and stay on the field."
"I feel great," Stallworth said. "I can't prevent injuries, but I'm doing my part to keep them to a minimum and hope I can play a full season."
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