“Tough matchups,” said Richard Smith, the Atlanta defensive coordinator. “Two guys that can be a nightmare.”
Edelman and Amendola spent most of the last week mocking each other — in less than fearsome terms.
“Julian Edelman looks like Forrest Gump in the scenes when he’s running across the country,” Amendola said. Edelman has grown a woolly beard like the one Tom Hanks, playing Gump, wore in that movie’s cross-country sojourn.
Edelman countered about Amendola, who also returns kicks: “Danny’s really just another returner trying to masquerade as a wide receiver. And he’s been getting away with it.”
Amendola and Edelman, who has spent much of his career returning punts, have both gotten away with a lot — somehow becoming indispensable weapons for this generation’s imperial quarterback, Tom Brady.
Neither had an easy ascent. Edelman, 30, played quarterback for a season at a junior college in Northern California, then for three years at unheralded Kent State. While the Patriots took him in the seventh round, Edelman’s best professional prospects might have been in the Canadian Football League, where his run-and-pass quarterbacking skills were seen as an ideal fit.
Edelman made the Patriots as a returner and after various fits and starts — and benchings — has emerged as a Brady favorite.
Amendola, 31, was a top receiver at Texas Tech, but in his first two seasons after college, two N.F.L. teams offered him nothing more promising than a spot on the practice squad. Amendola eventually broke through with the St. Louis Rams, then signed with New England in 2013, just after Wes Welker left the Patriots to join the Denver Broncos.
Edelman and Amendola have become prime examples of the kind of receivers that the Patriots coaches have a knack of finding for Brady — unpolished gems whom Brady refines into sparkling additions.
New England’s wide receivers coach, Chad O’Shea, admitted as much last week.
“There’s a ton of hard work, a considerable amount of time, that goes into the evaluation process of these kinds of offensive players,” O’Shea said. “It’s seems like some sort of accident that they end up in our uniform. But that’s not the case at all.”
He added: “Our scouts and coaches look for players at the wide receiver position who are very dependable and very consistent. Tom Brady demands that.”
Indeed, it appears that Brady’s proclivities and points of emphasis are what matter most when the Patriots seek their kind of receiver.
“They must play well within the system and have to do exactly what they’re asked to do,” O’Shea said.
And Brady apparently asks a lot of them.
“Tom is very demanding, but it’s also a great opportunity for these guys,” O’Shea said.
Amendola described Brady’s devotion to the details of route running.
“There are intricacies of each route against a certain coverage,” he said. “And, I mean, it comes down to inches. It’s all mapped out. And Tom will expect you to be exactly — within inches — of where you’re supposed to be.”
“Tom Brady has been playing for a long time, and you have to earn his trust,” Edelman said. “You better know the fine details of everything — and not just your route, but the other routes being run, so you can help ensure the success of the play whether you’re the primary receiver, whether you’re clearing out for someone else or on the back side or the front side of a formation.”
It is all part of the game within the game, and Edelman and Amendola said they liked to think of themselves as cogs — not always noticeable ones — in a finely tuned machine.
“I wouldn’t say that you can take just anybody and plug them into things on our team and it would work, because we’re good athletes who work hard at it,” Amendola said. “But to play for the Patriots, it might be just as important to be smart, clever and precise. That’s the real key as much as speed, quickness or size.”
Continue reading the main story