Amendola: Hoping to Catch On

IRVING, Tex. - When Terry Glenn was injured last year, skeptics opined that one of the Dallas Cowboys' biggest needs was a capable receiver to play across from Terrell Owens.

Such whispers grew quieter as the team kept winning, thanks in large part to a prolific passing offense.

"We didn't lose any receivers from last year," head coach Wade Phillips said. "The only one we lost was Terry Glenn, and he didn't play. We got a lot of passing yards (by throwing) to somebody. A lot of those yards opposite T.O. went to Jason Witten — he's a Pro Bowler who caught 96 passes last year.

"The fact is, there aren't a lot of guys like Terrell Owens — great, great receivers — out there available."

Phillips is right — the aerial offense built around Owens, Witten and quarterback Tony Romo is potent, especially with rising star Marion Barber carrying the load in the rushing game. But with Patrick Crayton the top returning wideout after Owens, many thought the team would spend a draft choice — possibly even one of its two first-rounders — on another target to complement Owens in the passing attack.

The Cowboys didn't draft a wide receiver this year, despite the fact that many thought it was a position of need. But they just might have found one in Danny Amendola, a free agent from Texas Tech. Despite his gaudy senior statistics — Amendola caught 103 passes last year for 1,133 yards — few expected him to be drafted.

At 5-11, 183, he lacks ideal size, and doesn't compensate with blistering speed (Amendola's 40-yard dash time before the NFL draft was 4.63). Skeptics dismiss his prolific production as a product of the pass-happy offense employed at Texas Tech and point out that he caught just 95 passes in his first three college seasons combined. They also point to his lack of bulk as an indication that he might be unable to block well enough downfield.

Nevertheless, Amendola has potential. He has sensational hands — if the ball is within reach, he'll catch it. He runs crisp routes, changes directions quickly and without losing speed, and employs a wide array of jukes and fakes to create separation in lieu of raw speed. He'll return kicks or fill coverage roles on special teams, and is the football equivalent of a gym rat, willing to do anything coaches ask. The first time he was asked who had stood out in the early workouts at this weekend's mini-camp, Dallas owner Jerry Jones named Amendola first.

Several teams contacted Amendola after the draft, a list he narrowed to the Cowboys and Houston Texans. Having grown up outside of Houston, he was tempted to join his hometown team, but felt Dallas presented a better fit.

"You look at a lot of things" when considering free-agent options, Amendola said. "You look at returning players at your position, you look at what teams did in free agency, and you look at players the teams draft.

"When they call, though, you have to decide fast. You could say you want to think about it, I guess, but if you do, they can always go to someone else. When Dallas called, I know that's where I wanted to sign, and I accepted right away."

If he can emulate the player to whom he is most often compared, Amendola's career will exceed the expectations of all coaches, teammates and fans. Ever since he arrived in Lubbock as a freshman, the whispers were there. Texas Tech had produced another short wide receiver a few years before who defied skeptics by going on to a very successful career, and now is the trendy name to cite when listing premier inside receivers: Wes Welker.

"He's a great player, and he's a great guy," Amendola said. "He's definitely a guy you want to emulate. If that's a guy I get compared to, that's a good thing."

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