ST. LOUIS – Danny Amendola is a burst of potential. It’s one of the first things you hear when you approach coach Jeff Fisher and other St. Louis Rams wide receivers about him. They tell you he’s a scrapper. They tell you he’s a flash of lightning – a 5-foot-11, 188-pound firecracker who gives life to everyone who breaks a huddle with him.
“He’s very instinctive,” Fisher said. “He’s got great quickness and hands.”
“He’s an exciting player,” wide receiver Brandon Gibson said. “He brings a lot of energy to the group.”
“He’s a tough guy,” wide receiver Danario Alexander said. “He does a lot for this team.”
To think, all that was missing last season during a forgettable fall when the Rams finished 30th in passing (179.4 yards per game), 31st in total offense (283.6 yards per game) and 32nd in scoring offense (12.1 points per game). Amendola’s year ended after little more than a glimpse at its start. He walked from the field at the Edward Jones Dome bracing his left arm after a gruesome triceps and elbow injury in the fourth quarter of a Week 1 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles. He was lost for the year, a scant five catches for 45 yards to show for it.
Flash forward nine months, and a return is in the works at Rams Park. Amendola stared into cameras after an organized team activity Wednesday with a deeper appreciation for his position. Last season’s inactivity was unfamiliar for the Texas Tech product: He only missed two games in his previous two seasons with the Rams.
The time away? Not something he wants to relive anytime soon.
“Coming off injuries, I’ve never had to sit out a full year,” said Amendola, who led St. Louis with 689 yards receiving and three touchdowns during the 2010 season. “That was tough. I’m hungrier than ever, and I’m ready to get back out there and start competing and start moving into camp and preseason and into the season.”
The Rams will welcome his hunger. Of course, little went right for St. Louis’ offense last season under then-coordinator Josh McDaniels. Too much was broken for one player to salvage the season. But it’s not a stretch to say Amendola would have given quarterback Sam Bradford a lift.
That’s because Amendola has established himself as a trusted mid-range target. His build brings to mind fellow Red Raider Wes Welker, the New England Patriots’ poster boy for everyone in the slot shy of 6 feet. Amendola used his elusive size to average 7.6 yards per catch in 2009 and 8.1 yards per reception a year later.
“Not being able to be in the locker room and travel and play the game and just be around the guys was hard,” Amendola said. “But injury is a part of the game, and it’s unfortunate. I’m moving on, and I’m ready to go.”
So are the Rams. Much will be decided about St. Louis’ wide-receiving corps before Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, but Amendola would be an intriguing complement to rookie speedsters Brian Quick and Chris Givens. The Woodlands, Texas, native has been introduced to as many as nine concepts a day in new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s system. Amendola has described the offensive philosophy as “West Coast, but it’s more explosive than West Coast.” He has called it one of the most intricate offenses he has seen.
“When he went down with his elbow, you kind of felt bad for him, because he came off a great year the year before, and he was looking forward to having an even bigger year,” Alexander said. “You know that he’s going to come back and be stronger, because you watch him on the field, and he’s willing to put his mind to anything and sacrifice whatever for the team. That’s the kind of guy you want on your team. I’m not worried about him coming back.”
But Amendola learned to grow through adversity during his time away. He spent hours in the film room becoming a smarter player by picking apart his strengths and weaknesses. Yet there was an empty feeling with his observation, because he couldn’t apply skills he studied to the field.
For him, school was in session. But there was no chance for a final exam.
“Dealing with adversity would be the main thing,” Amendola said when asked about the greatest lesson gained from his time away. “I never had to sit out a full year – I never sat out a game in my life from injuries. Dealing with that adversity was tough.”
Yet as Amendola spoke Wednesday, it was clear the most difficult days were behind him. A short time earlier, he darted around a practice field in dark-blue shorts and a dark-blue T-shirt with the same athleticism that has drawn high praise from his peers. He was back.
Instinctive? Exciting? Tough?
All apply to the Rams’ sparkplug in the slot. It’s a new year. Like his franchise, he’s eager to put a lost season in the past.