The "essential" player returns to Rams' offense ..
If NFL locker-room hierarchy were determined like things are done in the real estate business – location, location, location – then you’d have to wonder about where Danny Amendola was on the Rams’ social pecking order. Other than living on practice-squad row way up near the front entrance to the team’s spacious locker room at Rams Park, the veteran wide receiver has to have one of the worst pieces of real estate in the room.
His locker stall sits right next to the swinging double-door back entrance, mere footsteps from the drafty breezeway that leads out to the practice field. Those doors are always open, and on dank and damp days like Tuesday afternoon, you can feel a constant gust of cold air that isn’t particularly pleasant when you’re sitting there in sweaty practice gear. But it’s positively flu-inducing when you’re right out of the shower, dripping wet and wrapped in a towel.
And then there are the other rather comical hazards of the neighborhood, like the constant presence of the community sound system parked about two feet from Amendola’s stool that is kicking out throbbing rap beats with the volume cranked up to ear-drum-rattling levels. To add insult to injury, there’s a rather inconvenient presence of the mini basketball hoop (fiberglass, of course) that’s been tacked on the wall mere inches from his locker stall, which always makes for some rather interesting post-practice interviews when his teammates decide they want to work on their hoop skills while Amendola’s being questioned by reporters, like after Tuesday’s practice.
Q:“So Danny....boink, boink, boink...how does it feel to get back on the field?”
A:“I got … boink, boink, boink... some good work in today.... boink, boink, boink... I’m excited … boink, boink, boink....about getting back.”
But you can’t measure Amendola’s importance to the Rams’ offense based on his shabby spot in the locker room. If you did, you’d think he was some insignificant scrub lost way down on the depth chart. In reality, he just might be the lynchpin to the entire operation. Even after missing the last three games (all Rams losses) because of a separated SC joint near his collar- and breast bones, Amendola remains the team’s leading receiver (32 catches) and is tied for the most touchdowns scored (two). Before the injury, suffered on that Thursday night game against Arizona, Amendola was perhaps the most important weapon on the offense.
That made the injury all the more frustrating, because Amendola was finally emerging as the sort of receiver who no longer needed to be surrounded by unflattering qualifiers and insulting athletic code words. Smart football people were grudgingly beginning to give him his professional propers as a star-quality NFL receiver.
Remember that scene where the TV cameras followed him back to the locker room and a frustrated Amendola tossed his helmet against a wall?
“Oh man, I was so frustrated,” he said.
That was a moment filled with a ton of emotions. That helmet fling was about missing most of the 2011 season with an injury and being afraid that he was about to miss the rest of this season, too. It was about knowing he was finally making the sort of significant career breakthrough he’d dreamed about.
“That moment was just me thinking about everything I went through last year and wanting to be out there helping my team this year,” he said.
And now he is ready to get back on the field, adding one more impressive complement to his growing NFL resume. Quick healer. An injury that could have, probably should have, sidelined him for eight weeks or more, has healed after only four weeks, which means Amendola should be on the field this Sunday against the San Francisco *****.
“I’m ready to go,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “I feel good. I had a good week last week. In my mind I’m playing. If you’re asking me, I’m playing.”
If you’re looking for a cure to what has been ailing the Rams’ offense over this three-game losing streak, the return of Amendola surely ought to be one of the biggest reasons. He has become more than Sam Bradford’s security blanket and go-to guy on third downs.
If you watched Amendola this season, you could see he’s taken his game to another level. Ever since coming into the NFL four years ago as an undrafted free agent out of Texas Tech, Amendola had to listen to the not-so-subtle “yeah, but” swipes by critics who refused to recognize he had the ability to become one of those potential star-quality NFL receivers.
He heard the code words all the time and knew what those “compliments” truly meant. He was “the poor man’s” Wes Welker. He was a “complementary” player, not an essential star. He was a “possession” receiver.
I’ll admit it, I was one of those people who wanted to pigeonhole Amendola into this limited role, too. But now I know better. The athletic ability was always there, but now we’re seeing what a ton of hard work, a lot of speed, some rare quickness and an abundance of high football IQ can do for you, even if the entire football world wants to assume wrongly that you’re too short and too slow to be a major player at this level.
You watch Amendola run routes and what you see are rare qualities that not every slot receiver possesses. His route running is flat-out ridiculous. He works defensive backs silly. Rookie speedster Chris Givens says Amendola is the third fastest guy on the team behind Givens and Isaiah Pead. Most people don’t realize he has that kind of speed, but add that to his extraordinary quickness and it makes it nearly impossible to deal with him one-on-one when he scoots off the line of scrimmage.
He zigs, zags and shoots out of breaks with such precision and uncanny misdirection that he’s almost always wide open when Bradford looks for him. But now after four years in the league, he’s finally figured out how to exploit his speed and his quickness to get open on deeper routes, like the 44-yarder he caught on the first play of the Arizona game and the diving near-catch he made where he broke the SC joint.
“I’ve always been a guy who, even going back to Texas Tech, found it hard to be able to get top speed down the field,” Amendola said. “I had to work extra hard to work my routes. But now I feel like my speed is as good as it has been.”
Slowly but surely, the Rams’ offense is getting essential pieces back. There’s a chance offensive tackle Roger Saffold could be back next week, and Pro Bowl center Scott Wells right behind him.
As the Rams make the turn at the midseason mark, though, who could have imagined the most important return would be the little guy who no longer needs to be considered a “poor man’s” anything.
Amendola has grown into as essential a player as anyone on the Rams roster.
Re: The "essential" player returns to Rams' offense ..
Getting Amendola back is huge. Especially with confidence Bradford has shown throwing the deep ball to Chris Givens. Now if we could just get Brian Quick going.....