Amendola thankful for his health in fourth season with Patriots


FOXBORO -- It's sort of a tradition. Every year inside the Patriots locker room, on the last day of media availability before Thanksgiving, there are generous portions of holiday-related questions heaped onto players' plates: Who will you be celebrating with? What's your No. 1 side dish? Which dessert can you not live without?

Patriots receiver Danny Amendola was posed an old stand-by during his back-and-forth with a large scrum of reporters gathered around his locker Wednesday.

"What," he was asked, "are you thankful for?"

He smiled. His was as brief as it was genuine.

"Health," he said.

That hasn't always been at the top of the list for Amendola at this time of year.

Last season, he missed just two games, but he suffered a knee injury in Week 11 and was limited for the remainder of the season. In 2014, he played in every game but dealt with the lingering effects of ailments endured the year before. For his career, he's played in 94 of a possible 122 games -- many through injury.

This year, though -- he knocked on the wood of his locker stall when reminded -- he hasn't sniffed the injury report. He began training camp on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing offseason knee and ankle surgeries, but he was activated before the start of the regular season and has played in all 10 games.

Asked if anything has changed in his routine, he acknowledged he's getting smarter with each passing year of his career. He's in his eighth season and turned 31 earlier this month.

"I play the same way," he said. "Just try to fly around as fast as possible. That's not going to change. But I take care of my body differently. When you get older you have to start taking care of your body differently than when you're 24. I'm eating better. Getting rest at night. Treatment. All of that stuff."

Amendola's usage has tapered off this season, which has also very likely helped to keep him from enduring the same type of punishment he's experienced in years past. He has seen action in 34 percent of Patriots offensive snaps, down from 59 percent last season when he was leaned upon with Julian Edelman out during the second half of the season.

"That's not the goal," Amendola said of his playing time. "I want to play as many reps as I possibly can. That's just me. That's my job. All I can do is in the off-season during the season is prepare myself to be ready for everything. I'm ready. I'm ready for anything that the coaches want to throw at me or put me in to have to do. I just try to stay ready."

The emergence of free-agent acquisition Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell have helped allow the Patriots to manage Amendola to a certain extent, yet he's still used in critical situations. He's trusted as a sure-handed punt and kick returner. He's also been deployed in red zone and late-game situations when the team is looking for what coach Bill Belichick calls sound "situational football."

Last weekend against the 49ers, Amendola set up his offense with good field position after a 30-yard punt return, and in the fourth quarter he and Tom Brady hooked up on a scramble-drill play for a touchdown that put the team ahead 20-13.

On the year, he has 19 catches for 205 yards and a career-high four scores.

"Danny does a great job for us in whatever we ask him to do," Belichick said this week. "Return kicks, punts, block, play in the red-area, play on third-down, play in two-minute. He’s a really dependable, consistent player. Tough.

"He seems like he always has his best plays in those critical situations when you need them most. He’s been very valuable for us, especially for a guy that missed all of training camp, really didn’t start practice until the first week there before we opened with Arizona. But he’s done a great job for us. He’s helped us win a lot of games."

When it comes to the tricks of the trade that have helped to keep Amendola on the field for those critical situations, it starts with sleep. 

"It's just making sure you get rest at night instead of going out or partying like when you're younger," he said. "I'm trying to get seven-and-a-half hours. That's the magic number.

"I go home nowadays and I don't even turn the TV on. Usually if I do, I'm up at 10:30 [p.m.]. Next thing you know it's 11:45. It's like what am I doing? I get home now and I maybe listen to music, watch some film, and go to bed early. Take a phone call or two, and then it's lights out."

Perhaps just as important as his sleep schedule has been taking care of his lower body and the muscles that have given him issues in the past. In his first game with the Patriots in 2013, he aggravated a groin injury that plagued him for the remainder of that season. Now he puts in extra time three days a week to make sure his groin, hamstring and other leg muscles are all properly flexible.

Last year he set aside time for one massage a week. This year, that number is up to three.

"For me, I can control my muscles better if I do that," he said. "I know they're always going to be pliable and I know that they're always going to be aligned. A lot of the stuff I was dealing with in the offseason with my knee surgery and ankle and stuff like that, it was the alignment of my groin and my hamstring . . . I have to keep everything in line, and that means I have to do the extra work to keep it in line. Every day.

"When you go out and you stress your muscles, you've got to recover. You've got to get back to neutral, you've got to get back to where you started. After every practice, you've got to do whatever you got to do to get there.

"Some young guys may not necessarily have to do as much if you recover quickly. When I was 25, I could go out there and run for days and I have to do anything. Not even stretch. But I'm not young anymore."

Amendola's also done what he can to apply whatever wisdom he's gained over the years to his play on the field. Though he vowed to never stop trying to "fly around as fast as possible," he echoed a philosophy that teammate Rob Gronkowski espoused earlier this season: "You kind of have to know when the journey is over," Amendola said.

For Gronkowski, that may be when there is a defender or two on his back. For Amendola, that may mean something different.

"When you're kind of undersized, I'm not really going to run anybody over," he said. "That's always been taken into consideration."

Understanding the journey, factoring in the importance of sleep and muscle maintenance -- it's all added up to a healthy season for which Amendola's thankful.

"I know at the end of the day," he said, "I have to take care of my business, and I'm going to do anything I have to do to take care of my business . . . That's just to be there for my teammates. To be available to help my teammates, and do what I love to do. That's play football."

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