Pettis Pushing for Bigger Role
Entering just his third season in the NFL, Austin Pettis finds himself feeling something like an old man when he walks into the meeting room with his fellow receivers.
Following the offseason departures of veteran wideouts Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola and Steve Smith, the Rams opted to continue their youth movement at the position rather than bring in another veteran who could take valuable repetitions from their youngsters.
The result was the addition of exciting rookies like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. It also cast Pettis in the role of the “veteran” leader with just two years under his belt. For the 25-year old Pettis, it’s a task he’s openly embracing.
“The coaches let me know before we even came back for our offseason workouts that I was the vet in the receiver room,” Pettis said. “And I kind of have to approach it like that and take everyone under my arms a little bit and try to give them my knowledge that I’ve had being here.”
Pettis is surrounded by rookies such as Austin and Bailey and second-year guys like Brian Quick and Chris Givens. It didn’t take him long to start trying to find ways to help those players out so that the group’s youth couldn’t be used as a crutch moving forward.
During the team’s time away from Rams Park, Pettis took it upon himself to invite Quick and Givens to his home in southern California so the trio could work out and focus on getting as ready as possible for the 2013 season.
Givens and Quick lived with Pettis for the bulk of the time between season’s end and the start of the offseason conditioning program. The group would wake up and work out together, mixing in visits with other NFL players and some collegians and visiting different spots for their workouts, including a brief stop at UCLA.
There, the group worked out with former NFL receiver Terrell Owens in a large group setting, a workout arranged by Quick, who knew Owens from some previous meetings.
“We were down in LA, running some routes, throwing with a few different people and worked out at a facility down in Orange County,” Pettis said. “We got some real good work in and kind of understood how the NFL works and how hard you have to work and tried to relay that to these young guys early on.”
The work Pettis did with Givens and Quick wasn’t limited to the on-field workouts, either. For many young players in the league, the most difficult time of the year is the offseason. It lends itself to more free time and thus more opportunities to get into trouble.
Pettis made sure he emphasized to his younger teammates the importance of using that time wisely and not putting yourself in a position to get into trouble. It’s a lesson he said he learned from guys like Amendola and Gibson when he came into the league.
“I kind of just watched the older guys in front of me when I first got in here,” Pettis said. “I didn’t necessarily know how hard you had to work and I don’t think you noticed how hard you work in college just because they make you. We have a lot more free time and you have to be a professional and do stuff on your own.”
To be sure, Pettis has embraced the role of leader to the young group of receivers but he’s also by no means neglecting the work and opportunity to enhance his role in 2013.
In fact, Pettis has been one of the most consistently notable players during the Rams’ Organized Team Activities, making catches from every receiver position and really standing out during red zone opportunities with one acrobatic catch after another.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been impressed with how Pettis has not only taken on a leadership role but also set an example through his performance.
“He does a great job of coaching these young guys and he’s a professional,” Schottenheimer said. “And quite honestly, he’s probably having the best camp of all the skill players. He’s a tireless worker, very competitive, can play all the spots which helps and he’s having a tremendous spring.”
Pettis’ ascent should actually come as little surprise to those who were paying attention toward the end of the 2012 season.
About midway through the year, Pettis started finding himself worked into the game plan more and more, particularly in red zone situations where his 6’3, 207-pound frame could be better used.
Pettis caught a key touchdown at San Francisco in November which gave the Rams a late lead, came up with a huge fourth-down conversion on a ball thrown behind him to set up the game-winning score against Buffalo on Dec. 9 then posted a career-high 55 yards against Minnesota the following week before catching red zone touchdowns against Tampa Bay and Seattle in the season’s final two weeks.
The end-of-season prosperity gave Pettis a big dose of self-assurance heading into the offseason, a development that has even seen him put on a show on his way to Most Valuable Player honors at coach Jeff Fisher’s charity softball game.
“I felt a lot more comfortable,” Pettis said. “Going into it, once Coach Schotty started putting me in game planning more in the red zone, I started getting a little more confidence and I think Sam did as well and it’s continued into these OTAs.”
Pettis and his fellow wideouts returned to St. Louis in early April, about a week before the official start of the offseason program so they could get in some extra work with quarterback Sam Bradford.
The group ran routes and did some situational stuff with Bradford so when the Organized Team Activities began and installation of the offense started, they’d be as up to speed as possible. Each day after conditioning Pettis, the wideouts and Bradford would go outside and get in some additional work.
Entering the second year under Schottenheimer and together as a group, Pettis feels a definitive sense of understanding of the offense and how it could evolve in 2013.
“We are no longer thinking about the plays and worried about the coverage and stuff, now we are getting ready and just playing football, going out there and reacting,” Pettis said. “We know what we’re doing. When you get to play like that, that’s when you start having fun and that’s when you can put points on the board.”