FOXBORO — For the first time in maybe four years, the Patriots will enter the regular season with the healthiest version of Danny Amendola.
If that holds, Amendola could give the Patriots the best season of his five-year tenure here.
“I feel 24 (years old). I feel really good, healthy and ready to go,” the 31-year-old slot receiver said. “I feel as good as I’ve ever felt. I’m just trying to prepare as well as I can to get into the season feeling as good as I can. It changes every year. There’s always adversity to overcome. I’m going to prepare myself the best I can for the season to come and whatever I can do to help my team win games.”
Amendola was seemingly always playing catch-up in 2016, as offseason knee and ankle surgeries derailed his preparation. He didn’t debut at practice until the regular season started and was used primarily on third downs, a situation he ultimately mastered. Amendola caught 14 balls for 173 yards and two touchdowns on third down and had 15 catches for 70 yards and two scores on all other downs.
But this season, the reins are off. He showcased a high level of athleticism in Friday night’s preseason game against the Lions by beating his man up the seam for a nifty 31-yard catch. That explosion hasn’t been on display since early 2015 before the bone spurs ravaged his ankles and the ligaments were stressed in his knee.
Amendola’s time with the Pats has been mutually beneficial, but it’s rarely been easy. He signed a five-year deal worth up to $31 million in 2013 but has surrendered $10,481,260 by taking pay cuts during the past three offseasons. Now in the final year of his contract and set to turn 32 in November, who knows how much longer he has left.
Amendola does look like he can be a prominent contributor, and quarterback Tom Brady surely will look his way on third down as much as anyone now that Julian Edelman is gone for the season with a torn ACL. For that, Amendola’s role will be as important as ever.
He originally was signed to be Wes Welker’s replacement and got off to a roaring start in the 2013 season opener with 10 receptions for 104 yards against the Bills. But he tore the groin muscle right off the bone, missed a month and understandably never replicated that same gear the rest of the season.
It was impossible not to wonder what might have been with Amedola. That lasted until the 2014 Super Bowl run when he showed his value with two clutch touchdowns against the Ravens in the divisional round game and another against the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. He added to his postseason heroics last year in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons with a fourth-quarter touchdown and the game-tying 2-point conversion.
Now, Brady and the Patriots need Amendola to give them a boost in the wake of Edelman’s season-long shelving as a reliable, chain-moving pass-catcher who can exploit matchups across the middle. That’s a crucial element to the overall efficiency of the offense.
“You can’t replace him,” Amendola said of Edelman. “He’s such a good player, a tough player, a good teammate. It’s hard to replace a player like that. We’ve got to come together as a unit and play good football. That’s it.”
No, Amendola can’t replace Edelman, but he can soothe the sting of the loss. It’s simply a matter of health. So far, Amendola is off to the right start — save for a barking hamstring from earlier in camp — because he got to train for a full offseason.
“I mean, I didn’t have to get surgery this offseason, so I wasn’t rehabbing,” Amendola said. “I feel good. I feel strong. I feel fast. I’m ready to play.”
Maybe it won’t last, like in 2013 and 2015. Or maybe Amendola is on the verge of the best output of his career. He won’t assume anything because he understands as well as anyone how suddenly a football player’s body can act up.
But if the starters rest Thursday in the preseason finale against the Giants, Amendola will carry those healthy vibes into one of the most anticipated seasons in Patriots history.
“I feel good today,” Amendola said. “It’s day by day, week by week for me. Giants this week, whoever is next is next. That’s the way I roll.”