FOXBORO - A little less than six weeks from today, football fans from all corners of New England will have just one word on their lips.
Danny Amendola is probably thankful it's no longer his last name. But that doesn't mean the pressure's off in his quest to replace the most productive wide receiver of the decade on the Patriots' roster.
It just means he'll still have to be working hard every day in training camp while everyone else is watching every move of that Tebow fellow.
One of the most important storylines of the Patriots' upcoming training camp was suddenly given an opportunity to fly beneath the radar when the team signed quarterback Tim Tebow (and the entourage of national media he brings everywhere he goes) early last week. Tebow will be fortunate to emerge from training camp as the No. 3 quarterback, but the fact remains that of the wide receivers currently on the Patriots' roster, only Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater have caught passes thrown by Tom Brady in regular-season games - and not that many. With Wes Welker in Denver, Brandon Lloyd in limbo and Deion Branch gliding toward a likely retirement, there will be a lot of unfamiliar faces and hands at the end of Brady's passes as he enters his 14th year as a pro.
Amendola, signed almost immediately after Welker was Rocky Mountains-bound, isn't just some kid off the wide receiver assembly line. He is entering his fifth pro season, the previous four with the St. Louis Rams, although he has completed only one full 16-game schedule as a result of various injuries.
But there's no turning back, so he has to assume the role of slot receiver at which Welker excelled. The early signs have been positive, but as Brady said late last week, it's almost impossible to predict an outcome.
"We haven't really had any meaningful action," Brady said. "Running around in shorts and our game jerseys and without pads, it's football, but it's not really football. You really learn the most about players when it's the hardest, and training camp is a good time to develop some of that chemistry and mental toughness as a team. The more of those guys we have, the better we're going to be. To be mentally and physically tough is the most important part of football."
Brady and Amendola have been trying to speed the process of creating chemistry almost from the moment the latter signed. They got together in California to play catch, then have spent a lot of extra time together in the organized team activities and the recently concluded minicamp to get on the same page.
"It takes a lot of time and you just try to stay after it every day, as much time as you can communicating about certain looks, coverages, defensive personnel and alignments and route adjustments," Brady said. "It's really a matter of the effort that you put into it, so guys have been working pretty hard. We've been here the whole offseason to try to get up to speed and, like I said, the guys that have been here, everyone's made a bunch of improvements. Hopefully we continue to make improvements as minicamp ends and the beginning of training camp starts."
Brady, like Patriots' coach Bill Belichick, is more likely to turn a specific question about an individual into a blanket statement about the position group as a whole than to offer specific answers. But his reaction to a completion he made to Amendola during the minicamp was so animated, and so enthusiastic that it could be heard from one end of the practice fields to the other, he couldn't avoid an explanation.
"We talk about a lot of things," Brady said. "So when you can take something from the film room, or a correction of the previous day and actually apply it on the field, and maybe a little bit of a different look or a little bit of a different play but it's similar to what you talked about and he can pick it up, it's fun. That's how you make improvements. That's how you can exceed expectations, to continue to do the right thing over and over.
"We talked about something and the first time he didn't quite get it, and the second time we talked about it, he got it a little more but not quite, and then finally we nailed it," Brady added. "And hopefully, once you get that feeling of nailing it, you can understand it."
It may have been the first sign that Brady and Amendola were developing instinctive responses to each other.
"I've developed some great chemistry with receivers over the years, where body language is really important - when to sit, when to move, when to give me your eyes, when to give me your hands," Brady said. "All those little cues that you're using to try to anticipate things is, for players, very important. That's why some guys really pick things up, and why you develop a chemistry with certain players - like Aaron (Hernandez) and Rob (Gronkowski), they got it so quickly. They are very talented players, and Danny's come in and he's been fun to play with. He works so hard, he's diving out there for catches, and he's really done everything he's asked him to do. So it's really been a lot of fun."
Amendola offered more of an understated response when asked about Brady's positive reaction.
"I just got open and made a play. It was only one play, and we're trying to stack as many of those up as we can," he said.
"We're just trying to get these routes down now and try to get as much work as we can," he added. "(Brady) has been in the system for about 11 years, I think. I've been here for three weeks. He knows every route inside and out, and it's really good to have a leader like that. And the more work we get in, the best it is. Chemistry will come with time."
It's all part of a process, Brady said. A few catches in a no-pads, non-contact minicamp isn't going to guarantee a Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year. But it's a start, and every successful connection Brady has had with his receivers had to start somewhere.
"We're trying to lay a foundation, so that when we start training camp, we'll have a pretty good idea of what we're go at and so we don't waste a lot of time doing the things that we're probably not going to do," Brady said. "Through all of these offseason workouts and coaching sessions, and now the OTAs and minicamp, we're trying to hone in on the things that we do well. And that's a lot of different combinations of players and techniques and play.
"And we're seeing a lot of new things on defense, so it's about how you can make adjustments because that's what happens on game week," he said. "You play on Sunday, you talk about it on Monday, and then you move on to the next week. And it's a whole new team, another game plan and you've got to try to adapt so you can go out and be successful the following week."