FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady dropped back and threw a pass. Danny Amendola ran to where he expected it to be.
It was a painful connection.
“He darted me in the chest with one ball,” the Patriots receiver said Tuesday. “I was like, `wow, this guy can really wing it.”’
Amendola and New England’s eight other new wide receivers better get used to it. They’re among 12 players at that position on the roster for the team’s organized team activities, a three-day session that ends Wednesday.
Gone from last season are Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch. Welker led the team with 118 catches then signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos. Lloyd was second with 74 receptions then was released. Branch wasn’t re-signed after catching just 16. That leaves just Julian Edelman as the only wide receiver who caught passes from Brady last year, and that total was only 21. Moving forward, none of the newcomers will catch very many if they can’t learn New England’s complex offensive system.
At least Amendola has a head start. He played under current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels when McDaniels held that position in 2011 with the St. Louis Rams. So he said he’s “familiar” with the system, although the one the Patriots use is more “intricate.”
Besides, Amendola was limited to just one game that season because of injury.
“That’s the most important thing, the vocabulary of the offense,” he said. “I’m learning day in and day out, and studying at night.”
Three other veterans signed with the Patriots as free agents. Michael Jenkins spent the past two of his nine NFL seasons with Minnesota. Donald Jones was with Buffalo for his three seasons. Lavelle Hawkins was with Tennessee for all five of his pro seasons.
“You ask questions in meetings. You kind of thrive off each other. It’s definitely a group atmosphere, a group effort,” Amendola said. “We have some guys coming from other teams with a lot of experience and it’s exciting to see what we’re going to be able to do.”
The questions go beyond just the wide receivers.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski had his fourth surgery on his left forearm on Monday. He broke it on Nov. 18 while blocking for an extra point against Indianapolis, then broke it again in New England’s first playoff game, a win over Houston. He’s also been bothered by back problems.
“We expect this to be the last surgery on his forearm and he should make a full recovery, according to the doctors I met with,” said Drew Rosenhaus, Gronkowski’s agent. “The surgeons said it went as well as they could have hoped for. Rob was in good spirits after the operation.”
But just when he’ll be able to get back on the field is uncertain.
Meanwhile, the jockeying goes on for roster spots at wide receiver. Two draft picks figure prominently in that competition — second-rounder Aaron Dobson of Marshall and fourth-rounder Josh Boyce from TCU.
For Amendola, establishing a relationship with the other receivers and Brady is a constant process.
“It’s very important,” he said. “It’s something that you work on every day in the meeting rooms. Outside of the building, forming a relationship (helps) you play better on the field.”
After signing with the Patriots, Amendola worked out with Brady in California.
“Any time you get a jump and you get to work with each other is good,” Amendola said.
Brady and Welker did that for five years, not counting 2008 when the former suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. In those five seasons, Welker caught 443 passes.
Amendola has caught 196 passes in his four pro seasons with a high of 85 in 2010. Last year, he had 63 receptions for 666 yards while Welker had 118 for 1,354.
Amendola figures to take over from Welker as slot receiver but said he’s not concerned with comparisons between them.
“That’s not something I need to worry about,” he said. “I’m worried about the playbook and getting the reps down and getting on the same page with my teammates and the good thing is I don’t have to worry about that stuff.”
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