Amendola Embraces Leadership Role

Posted Aug 15, 2012

Although he is entering just his fourth full NFL season with the Rams, Danny Amendola at the age of 26 has already become the de facto grizzled veteran of a mostly young and inexperienced receiver corps.

In fact, of the 10 receivers the Rams have on their current roster, Amendola is the second oldest, only about six months behind Steve Smith and the next closest wideout in terms of age is Brandon Gibson, who is almost two full years younger.

So as the Rams transition into another new offensive system under coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and continue to develop with a young crew of wideouts, the onus falls on Amendola, along with receivers coach Ray Sherman, to help his young teammates realize their potential.

It’s a role that Amendola has embraced, not that he has much say in the matter.

“That’s just the role as a veteran you are automatically kind of slotted into that, I guess,” Amendola said. “The fact that you know, whether it’s questions about where to live, how to turn the computers on, where do I get my car washed or just stuff relative to life in St. Louis, to be a rookie and a new guy here is a learning process. I’m willing to help any way I can.”

To think that Amendola has become the veritable leader amongst players in the wide receiver meeting rooms is no surprise considering the work ethic and ability he brings to the table on a daily basis.

What is surprising, though, is that in many ways Amendola is still learning the finite details of the game himself and only a few years ago was fighting simply to salvage a spot on a NFL roster, let alone a practice squad.

Coming out of Texas Tech in 2008, Amendola bounced between Dallas (where he first learned under Sherman) and Philadelphia, spending his time on each team’s practice squad before the Rams signed him to their active roster on Sept. 22, 2009.

Since then, Amendola’s career has been on a decided upward trajectory. In just three years, he’s gone from the fringe of the NFL to valuable receiver and positional leader.

That journey has been an interesting one but Amendola knows better than most that if he stops to take time and think how far he’s come, he could find himself right back where he began.

“At the end of the day, when my career is over I will look back and look at that stuff but right now honestly I am just trying to get this playbook down,” Amendola said. “I don’t even know what I’m going to eat for lunch. I guess we’ll just have to see how it goes. At the end of the day, I’ll look back but not right now.”

Right now, Amendola has much bigger fish to fry. In Schottenheimer’s offense, Amendola’s role has expanded greatly from the more simple description of “slot” receiver that he’s been saddled with since his arrival in St. Louis.

Amendola has proved more than capable of playing well in the slot, racking up 85 catches for 689 yards and three touchdowns in his breakthrough 2010 season. Heading into last year, he was considered a candidate for a huge season from the slot but that came crashing down in week one when he suffered a season ending elbow injury.

In playing in the Rams’ preseason opener against Indianapolis last week, Amendola got his first taste of game action since that day.

“It had been awhile,” Amendola said. “I went down the first game of the year last year, sat out the whole year and then just to get out there and run around and hit and get tackled in a real game is fun.”

The idea of getting hit being a fun exercise is one that’s probably limited to Amendola and a select few others but it’s not hyperbole from a player who approaches every practice as though it might be his last.

Embroiled in a receiver competition that is among this camp’s fiercest battles, Amendola is perhaps the safest of the group, the one guy that probably doesn’t have to spill every drop of sweat in every practice.

Yet there Amendola is, every day, doing just that. After all, if he didn’t what kind of example would he be setting for his youthful teammates?

“He shows how important it is to practice full speed every time,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s very good in the classroom and he’s been a good influence on them. That group’s got something to prove together and a lot of times, that’s what it takes. But the whole group’s working together and obviously Danny’s a big part of it.”

That isn’t to say that Amendola is some sort of boring, Bueller-esque teacher standing at the front of the receiver meeting room drolly passing out advice to his teammates.

The sneaky athletic Amendola is an intense competitor who is one of those guys that is just maddeningly good at almost everything he tries. As quickly as he can convert a first down on the football field, he can step into the batters box and go bomb for bomb with much bigger teammates in a softball home run derby.

Amendola’s approach to practice and every competitive endeavor he takes on has endeared him to young teammates like Austin Pettis.
“Danny is great,” Pettis said. “He’s a good guy. He’s considered the veteran around here but he’s one of us, he’s a young guy. He’s funny, he likes to goof around but he’s very serious about his craft. You can see why he’s good. The guy has never taken a rep under 100 miles an hour so he’s a good guy to model your game around and he just works really hard. He’s earned the spot he’s at today and I think he’s going to have a really good career here.”

Amendola’s career in St. Louis hasn’t been too bad so far but it’s clear the Rams and Amendola himself are expecting much more in the years to come.

The new offense has asked Amendola to work at all of the receiver positions, a tremendous mental task for him since it requires him to know every route for every position on every play in Schottenheimer’s voluminous playbook.

“It’s intricate but at the same time very effective and it has every offense I have ever been in included in it,” Amendola said. “It’s going well so far. It’s not like I don’t know all the routes from the past it’s just that to pick it all up at one time is pretty challenging. But that’s part of the game, part of getting a new offense down. That’s the way it goes.”

As with any regime change, the most difficult part of the transition is learning and adapting to the new terminology and language being used by the staff. Amendola knows how to run the routes but he’s still learning what those routes are called. Having to think through that can also throw off the timing between any receiver and quarterback Sam Bradford.

Still, that doesn’t prevent Amendola and his fellow wideouts from spending extra time with all of the quarterbacks after practice to work on timing and getting in synch. 

“The more experience we get with each other, the better we are and that goes the same to all the other receivers, all the backs,” Amendola said. “The more you play with each other, the more familiar you get and it makes it that much easier when the games come around.”

As for his newfound leadership role, Amendola doesn’t hesitate to answer the many questions his young teammates throw his way during practice or meetings. While he’s still learning the offense along with the other wideouts, he’s at least been around long enough to provide guidance on off the field issues as well as on field things like the details of route running or what to look for in identifying coverages at the line of scrimmage. 

Maybe some would say Amendola is too young to be considered a veteran leader but he doesn’t mind the role and doesn’t figure to turn it down anytime soon.

“I remember being a young guy and being a rookie and it’s hard sometimes,” Amendola said. “It’s frustrating because everything is new. I was lucky enough to have a lot of great people surrounding me and I am just going to try to do the same thing.”