EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 8, 2013

Pressure squarely on Amendola's shoulders

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — According to those in “the know,” Danny Amendola is bigger, stronger, faster and has better hands than The Guy He Replaced. We have been told that The Guy He Replaced was and still might be quicker.

We got a little glimpse of Amendola’s explosiveness in the New England Patriots’ first preseason game against Tampa Bay.

In fact, if we didn’t know the facts, that Amendola replaced one of the most popular Patriots ever, we would have thought The Guy He Replaced, Wes Welker, was wearing No. 80 instead of No. 83 during the preseason.

The quiet, shy Amendola has got a bull’s-eye on his jersey. And I’m not referring simply in the eyes of opposing slot defensive backs. I’m referring to several million New Englanders.

Letting Welker go -- or, in the Patriots words, Welker decided to go -- has been a move on a par with Spy-Gate for Bill Belichick.

The fans loved him. And what wasn’t there to love?

Welker produced -- 672 receptions and 37 TDs in six seasons or 112 receptions and 6 TDs per. Despite being nearly decapitated several times and tearing his knee, he missed only three regular season games.

Welker was tough.

That is going to be Amendola’s issue, making New Englanders, including writers, stop bringing up Welker. But that won’t be easy with nights like Thursday night, when Welker caught six passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns in his first game with the Denver Broncos.

This is not something new for Amendola. He followed Welker at Texas Tech, basically replicating his predecessor’s accomplishments. And now he’s been asked to do the same here.

Amendola has a track record in this league.

He’s had two major injuries over the last two seasons, forcing him to miss 20 of 32 games.

But when healthy he’s been every bit as good as Welker. His 15-catch, 160-yard effort in a 31-28 win over Washington on Sept. 16, 2012 and his 11-catch, 102-yard day in a 24-24 tie with San Francisco on Nov. 11 had a lot of people comparing him to the guy he is replacing in New England.

Amendola’s issue is health. If he plays an entire season we expect he will put up Welker-like numbers, maybe between 100 and 120 catches, 1,200 and 1,400 yards and seven to 10 TDs. And that will probably mean peace, harmony and one of the best offenses in the NFL again for the Patriots.

If he misses several games due to injury, well, it could get ugly around here, especially with the young cast of receivers. Brady needs his “binkie” and Amendola is filling that role right now.

While many, many people refuse to look at Welker’s “negatives” (his drops, he’s 32, his slightly declining speed, he’s much closer to the end of his career than the prime) and Amendola’s upside (speed, strength, hands and age, 27), two things need to happen to change that.

The Patriots have to win a lot, maybe even a Super Bowl, and Amendola has to lead the charge with Brady.

Talk about pressure.

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.