Playing his best football, Lions' Amendola also setting bar for locker room's culture

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Danny Amendola

Allen Park — Have you ever watched the movie "Happy Gilmore"?

No one would blame you if you skipped that one, but in the corny comedy, the titular character, played by Adam Sandler, is a hockey goon who lacks the skills to make it as a professional, so he converts to golf. 

During one of the film's early scenes, before Gilmore is convinced to abandon his hockey dreams, he goes to the batting cages to train, hops in without a helmet and takes fastballs off the chest (and head) to prove his toughness as on-lookers gawk.

There's something about Detroit Lions wide receiver Danny Amendola and his unrelenting intensity that brings this scene to mind. 

Let's go back to training camp.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford was not practicing, part of a pre-determined rest period for the longtime starter. That meant the first-team offense was under the direction of then-backup David Fales and it wasn't going well. 

On multiple plays early in the practice, Fales' passes to Amendola were off-target and the veteran receiver wasn't happy. Even though the action was easily 100 yards away from where media was stationed to watch the session, there was no mistaking who was shouting as, "Damn it, David!" rang out.

A few minutes later, Amendola removed his helmet and showed just enough restraint to stop himself from slamming it to the ground. 

To the uninitiated observer, this might look like a temper tantrum. But that's not an accurate representation of what was happening. Amendola is a perfectionist who places extraordinary expectations not only on himself, but his team. Anything less than that standard is an annoyance. 

"He’s one of those guys that came in the league maybe not (well known), and grinded it out every single day like he still has that chip," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "I think that’s the edge that he has, I think that’s something that he does every single day. ... He’s very competitive, he’s very hard on himself to go out and perform and execute at a high level every single play."

Each year, at the scouting combine, NFL decision-makers are doing everything they can to figure out which players are truly passionate about the game. Beyond talent, they want guys who eat, sleep and drink football. They're looking for players where the game consumes the majority of their waking thoughts. 

That's Amendola. 

And while Patricia has never directly acknowledged it, Amendola was brought into Detroit not only because he filled a slot-receiver-sized hole on the offense that traded away Golden Tate, but because Amendola's passion was needed to help instill that elevated level of personal demand throughout the locker room.

When you hear about installing a locker room culture, this is what people are talking about. 

Sticking around

"He’s certainly one of those guys as you watch him work, you say to yourself, ‘OK, I understand the standard that he’s going to put out there, and I’m going to match that or beat it or whatever it is,'" Patricia said. "That’s the competitive part of it that I think takes over from that aspect of it when you have guys like that on the team."

Getting to the NFL is difficult, but sticking around more than a couple years is even more challenging. Yet Amendola, with less-than-ideal size (5-11, 185) and less-than-ideal speed, has managed to stick for 11 years. 

Danny Amendola

That's the result of a work ethic that puts most others to shame, which is saying something in an industry where hard work is a baseline demand.

It didn't take long for teammates to notice Amendola runs at a higher gear. 

"We're still just figuring each other out, but I know one thing, his work ethic is crazy," fellow receiver Kenny Golladay said back in April. "It's through the roof. He wants to push everyone. And when you have a guy like that, a vet guy, a savvy vet, you just really want to follow up under him. I'm not going to let him go out there and out-run me."

A few months later, Amendola was voted a team captain, an unusual honor for a guy both in his first year with a franchise and under contract for just that season. 

Amendola comes from a football family. His father, Willie, coached a high school state championship team in football-crazed Texas and his brother Matt played defensive back at Baylor. All Danny has ever known is hard work, starting with lifting weights in the family garage while growing up. 

Amendola still hits the weights hard, three times a week, including most Mondays after games. He knows at his age his maximum output has plateaued, but he keeps detailed records to make sure he's maintaining his strength. In between that it's yoga, biking and three to four massages weekly. 

Total package

"Strength, flexibility, mobility, pliability, durability, they all go in hand in hand," Amendola said. "I am in a unique position where I can't just lift weights. I've got to run, be mobile, be agile and try to get away from these defenders, while being strong and maintaining strength. You can't just be a bodybuilder. You can't just be a track guy, a cross-country runner, or a conditioning expert. You have to mix in everything to put a good football player on the field.

"Basically, before practice, I'm doing everything I can to get ready for practice," he said. "Then after practice, I'm doing everything you can to recover from that practice. It's either one or the other."

Danny Amendola

When he's not sharpening his body, Amendola is doing his best to sharpen his mind. Three days of film study starts with breaking down the upcoming opponent's overall defense, then how they like to cover Detroit's receiving concepts, then the focus shifts to the individual matchup.

What is that player's dominant hand? How do they transition against routes? How committed are they to supporting the run? 

This week, that's LaMarcus Joyner, a top free-agent addition for the Raiders this offseason. Primarily a safety early in his career, Oakland has moved him to nickelback and used him aggressively in the team's blitz looks. 

"He's feisty," Amendola said. "He shows up on film a lot. You can tell he's one of the one of the leaders in their defense and he's a great player.

"Physical at the line. He's a little smaller, undersized, but he plays at a much bigger we weight class than he's listed. He's good football player."

Amendola also plays bigger than his weight class. And for a man who celebrates his 34th birthday on Saturday, he's ignoring Father Time's demand to slow down, producing at the best level of his career.

Despite missing a game with a chest injury, he's on pace to shatter his previous best for yards in a season after racking up 16 receptions for 200 yards the past two games. 

"I think he understands the game and sees the game really well for a receiver, and I obviously have a different view than those guys do running routes," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "He’s, a lot of times, doing exactly what I want him to do, and he did a great job of catching the ball last week and made some big plays for us."

Lions at Raiders

► Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. Sunday, Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

► TV/radio: Fox/760

► Records: Lions 3-3-1, Raiders 3-4

► Line: Oakland by 2