This being the Patriots, any talk about comparing new receiver Danny Amendola to the guy he replaced, Wes Welker, is squashed immediately.
“That’s not something I need to worry about,” Amendola said this spring. “I’m worried about the playbook and getting the routes down and getting on the same page with my teammates.”
But it’s an obvious comparison, given that Amendola is replacing Welker in the lineup, and both are undersized, overachieving slot receivers. Both went undrafted out of Texas Tech, both bounced around the NFL before getting established, and both signed five-year contracts to play in New England (Welker in 2007, Amendola this year).
If Amendola, 27, really didn’t like the Welker comparisons, he probably wouldn’t have signed with the Patriots to fill Welker’s role.
“It’s something that just . . . is,” his father, Willie Amendola, said of the comparison. “Amendola and Welker get mentioned in the same sentence a bunch. I don’t know if he ever gets tired of it, but you get used to it.”
Amendola, technically in his sixth NFL season (he spent his rookie year on the Cowboys’ practice squad), has dealt with the comparison ever since he stepped foot on Texas Tech’s campus in 2004, right after Welker left for the NFL.
Amendola is a little taller (5 feet 11 inches compared with 5-9) but both are about 185 pounds, are precise route runners, and are fearless working the middle of the field. When former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach recruited Amendola out of The Woodlands (Texas) High, he specifically did so to be Welker’s replacement.
“When you recruit a guy you’re trying to make comparisons – ‘You can do what he does,’ ” Leach said by telephone. “In Danny’s case, we used Wes to illustrate to him what his role on our team would be.
“Danny watched a lot of Wes’s film. When you want to learn how to play inside receiver, Wes is an incredible example. Danny is a little bit bigger and a little bit faster, but they’re just both tough, gritty people.”
Welker had 259 catches and 21 touchdowns in four seasons as the Red Raiders’ dynamic slot receiver, plus eight touchdowns on punt returns from 2000-03. Amendola, wasn’t quite as productive, but still had 204 catches, 15 touchdowns and one punt return touchdown from 2004-07.
“From when I first got here, it was ‘Wes Welker Jr.,’ ” Amendola said in 2008. “Being the shorter white guy who played hard, made little plays, and being a punt returner as well, you couldn’t help but draw comparisons.
“I admire the way he plays. He’s a mile a minute. He’s always moving. He’s always doing something. That’s what I try to pattern my game after — keep working, keep working hard.”
Leach said “personality-wise, they have a lot of similarities,” and the two carry a similar fearlessness when working the middle of the field.
“Both of them are easily two of the toughest guys I’ve been involved with,” Leach said. “There’d be bigger guys and faster guys, but they were the best receivers. Wes’s body of work in New England speaks for itself, and I think they’re going to be really pleased with Danny, too.”
The one difference between Welker and Amendola, Leach said, is that Welker tends to freelance a little more, while Amendola, the son of a coach, follows instructions to a T.
“Wes was always the guy that was like, ‘All right, I need to be at this point at this time to get the ball,’ and recognized he could find a variety of ways to get there,” Leach said. “With Danny, you better be really careful how you draw that line, because he’s going to do it exactly like that line says. If your arm slips and all of a sudden it’s a little more of a squiggly line than you like, Danny’s going to run a squiggly line out there.”
Amendola hasn’t yet come close to matching Welker’s production in the NFL, but Welker, 32, wasn’t exactly a proven commodity when he joined the Patriots in 2007 after spending three years with the Chargers and Dolphins. His best year was in 2006, when he caught 67 passes for 687 yards and one touchdown for Miami. Then in six years with the Patriots and Tom Brady, Welker caught 110-plus passes five times.
Amendola’s best season so far was in 2010, when he caught 85 passes for 689 yards and three touchdowns for the Rams. He also led the NFL that year in all-purpose yardage (2,364).
The biggest question mark surrounding Amendola is whether he can stay healthy. He doesn’t shy from contact and has missed 20 games over the past two seasons with various injuries, and already has Patriots fans worried after sitting out Thursday’s exhibition game against Detroit.
But if he can stay healthy this season, the people that know Amendola best expect him to have a Welker-type impact.
“Danny is very intelligent, and there’s no reason why Danny wouldn’t have numbers that Wes was putting up, if not more,” said former NFL receiver Mark Clayton, the Ravens’ first-round pick in 2005, who lived with Amendola when the two played in St. Louis in 2010. “Because he gets the game, he gets football. He’s going to get open, and I know Tom is going to put it there and he’s going to catch it.”
Amendola’s father is excited to see how his son can blossom with the move from St. Louis to New England.
“It’s awesome for him,” Willie Amendola said. “Sam [Bradford] is also a very good quarterback, but with Tom you have so much experience, gets the ball out quick and all that. I think he’ll get a chance to be targeted a whole bunch and a chance to contribute to some great victories.”
The Patriots are trying to manage expectations for Amendola, who signed for $10 million guaranteed in March.
“Wes had such a productive career, I think it’s unfair to create expectations for Danny that are what Wes did,” Brady said last week.
But Amendola has already developed a nice rapport with Brady, catching six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown in just the first quarter against the Buccaneers in the second exhibition game. As long as Amendola stays healthy, there’s little reason to think that rapport won’t continue in the regular season.
“He’s real quick, he’s really explosive, he’s one of the most dependable players ever,” Leach said. “And if you’ve got to replace Wes Welker, Danny’s the guy to do it with, no question.”
TIME RUNNING OUT?
Bruschi: Tebow has plenty to prove
Tim Tebow didn’t play Thursday night, leading most local and national media to speculate that his time with the Patriots is running out.
No one knows Bill Belichick better than new Patriots Hall of Famer Tedy Bruschi, and he had some interesting comments about Tebow on Friday on WEEI. Bruschi believes that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who drafted Tebow for Denver in the first round in 2010, will lobby Belichick to keep Tebow as the third quarterback.
Bruschi believes Tebow hasn’t earned a roster spot yet, but McDaniels will do his best to make Tebow look good in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Giants.
“I really think his opportunity to earn a roster spot on this team will come in the next preseason game, because up to this point, right now, he has not,” Bruschi said. “I think you do whatever you can to make him look good because I think Josh wants him on this team. I think they really want to give him a chance, and I think they want him to show them that he can add some value.”
But as of now, Bruschi doesn’t believe Tebow adds enough as a third quarterback to justify keeping him over, say, a 10th defensive back or fifth running back.
“He is not better than that extra receiver, doesn’t have enough value as some of the guys that can provide special teams help or do more things for this team,” Bruschi said. “I think there’s a reason why he didn’t play — because you really wanted to roll with who you wanted to be.
“Next game, ‘OK, Tim, here you go. You’ve had a month to be with us, a lot of quality reps, let’s see what you’ve got.’ And I think if he shows us anything, I think he’ll be on this roster.”
Players up in arms over hits to knees
The NFL’s top concern these days is eradicating hits to the head and adhering to a strict concussion protocol. For one, it’s the right thing to do, and two, the league is being sued by several thousand former players who claim the NFL negligently handled head injuries in the past, leading to lifelong problems for many former players and possibly to the suicides of Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, and others.
In safety videos shown to players before the season, the NFL emphasizes to defenders the importance of “aiming low” when tackling, because it’s a safer target point and the league will have little patience for hits to the head.
But a lot of players, even offensive players, aren’t on board with this because of the unintended consequence — more tackles around the knee area.
Texans rookie D.J. Swearinger caused an uproar among offensive players last week when he went low to tackle Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller. The result was a nasty knee injury — torn ACL, MCL, PCL, and dislocation — that could end Keller’s career.
And several players made comments that go counter to everything the league is working toward, safety-wise.
“Hit me in my head [instead],” Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez told USA Today. “Dustin Keller is a friend of mine and you just ruined a guy’s career because you went low and at his knee like that. You never go at a guy’s knee. Never.’’
Fellow tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. further explained why a player would rather take a hit to the head than the knee.
“Concussion = missed time, pass test, you’re back,” Winslow said on Twitter. “Lower Leg injury like DK’s last night = done for season.”
Frankly, it’s hard to blame Gonzalez or Winslow for their sentiments. While research suggests concussions can lead to serious long-term problems — including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which many believe contributed to the suicides of Seau and Duerson — players generally aren’t worried about what can happen to them 15 or 20 years down the road.
But a serious knee injury can cut short a player’s career and ruin any chance of a big NFL payday.
One thing is clear about this dilemma, though — you can bet the NFL will use Gonzalez’s and Winslow’s comments in their defense if and when the concussion lawsuits make it to court.
League has fine mess on its hands
Meanwhile, next offseason the players’ union really needs to make a push with the NFL to change the way players are fined, because the current system is grossly unfair to the grunts and young players.
As it stands, the league sets minimum dollar amounts for each infraction: $15,750 for a horse collar tackle, $7,875 for a chop block, $26,250 for contacting an official, and so on. Last week, Bears rookie linebacker Jon Bostic was fined $21,000 for a seemingly legal hit that the NFL deemed to be “impermissible use of the helmet.”
For someone like Vince Wilfork, set to make $6.5 million in base salary this year, that $21,000 is a drop in the bucket. But that’s a significant amount for a rookie like Bostic, who all make $405,000 this year (before taxes and agent fees, of course).
The NFL also has rules that players can be fined for being overweight — a maximum of $470 per pound, up to twice a week. Last year, Dolphins rookie fullback Jorvorskie Lane entered camp at 260 pounds instead of 258, and he told Yahoo! Sports that the Dolphins fined him a total of $1,455. Since players only receive per diems in training camp and don’t receive their normal paychecks until the regular season, “I basically played the whole preseason for free,” Lane said last year. And if Lane had gotten hurt in preseason? Sorry, pal. The team would have paid him a small injury settlement and eventually cut him.
Now, the good news for players such as Bostic and Lane: Players can appeal fines, and per the collective bargaining agreement a fine can be reduced “if it exceeds 25 percent of one week of a player’s salary for a first offense, and 50 percent of one week” for a second offense. So, Bostic should be able to get his fine reduced to $5,955, or 25 percent of his weekly salary.
But instead of forcing the player to jump through all those hoops, the answer seems simple — the NFLPA needs to seek a fine system based on percentages, not fixed dollar amounts.
A hit to the head should cost a player, say, 30 percent of his weekly salary. It treats all players equally and doesn’t force an unfair financial burden on the league’s blue-collar players.
Cardinals fan John Coulter was ejected from the exhibition game against the Cowboys Aug. 17 after his 15-year-old son was seen holding a cup of beer.
Coulter explained that he simply asked his son to hold the beer while Coulter took a picture. But two undercover officers with the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control approached him, told Coulter that what he had done is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and said he could have been arrested for it.
Instead, father and son were escorted from the game.
One of the most famous Ravens of all time, 6-foot-9-inch left tackle Jonathan Ogden, standing in the middle of BWI Airport on Friday morning, holding a bag of Arby’s and going unnoticed by the hundreds of people going through security and heading to their gates.
Offensive linemen are among the most anonymous athletes in professional sports, and apparently that continues even after you reach the Hall of Fame.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.