Pettis Having Productive Camp

Posted Aug 14, 2012

When Austin Pettis arrived at his first NFL training camp a year ago, the deck was stacked against him on a number of levels.

On the heels of a lengthy lockout, Pettis and his teammates were denied the opportunity to go through the offseason program which denied them the chance to get acclimated to a NFL workout regiment, cost him the opportunity to get adjusted to the speed of the game and most important deprived him of the chance to get his playbook and learn a new offense.

By the time Pettis had stepped on the field to try to enter the fray at wide receiver, Pettis’ head was already spinning. Although he had some good moments in his rookie year, he never really got the hang of it.

“I don’t think I quite reached that (comfort level) last year,” Pettis said. “I think it was just a lot of things. Obviously, everyone was set back and we had to kind of rush into camp and rush into learning a whole new playbook and offense and it didn’t help that it was a whole new offense for the whole team as well. It was a difficult situation. I think we have a lot of guys with a lot more confidence this year and I think it’s showing. We’ve got a lot of guys making plays all over the place.”

Little more than two weeks into camp, Pettis has emerged as one of those guys making plays all over the place. Slowly but surely with each passing practice, Pettis continued to make enough plays to creep his way up the depth chart.

By the middle of last week, Pettis had worked his way into a regular rotation with the first team offense after Brandon Gibson went out with a hamstring injury.

Last Tuesday, Pettis got in with the top group and went up for impressive touchdown catches on back to back plays in red zone work. He continued that work through the week and into the preseason opener in Indianapolis where he led the team with three catches for 25 yards, including one difficult grab to move the chains on a third down.

On a consistent basis, Pettis has started to show up with impressive grabs.
“Yes he has,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s doing a good job on special teams as well and that’s the thing that you don’t see. The third-down catch was a huge catch, Sam’s slant. That was out of frame. That was a big catch and he’s been doing that here on the practice field. So, he’s improved along with the rest of the group.”

Pettis’ improvement so far in year two comes as a direct result of having a full offseason to get comfortable in the new offensive brought on by coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

With a new coaching staff and scheme in place, Pettis knew he would be starting the year with a clean slate and a new chance to impress. He worked hard to do that in OTAs but it wasn’t until this training camp that things started to click into place a little more.

That has meant less thinking and more reacting.

“Being able to know what is supposed to go on on every single play is that much more of an advantage for you to just go out and play fast,” Pettis said. “I know last year for a lot of us trying to learn the playbook and adjust to the game speed of the NFL was kind of difficult. It definitely affected me and I wasn’t able to play to the ability I thought I could. So coming in this year, knowing the offense a little better, I feel like I am able to just go out and play.”

Going out and playing has been a tall order for Pettis, who is the glorified utility man of the receiving group. Capable of playing any of the wideout positions, Pettis has been asked to do a little bit of everything in this camp.

One minute Pettis is lined up in the slot, the next he’s on the outside with Danny Amendola in the slot. All of that moving around can be stressful mentally but Pettis views the versatility as an advantage at a crowded receiver position.

“Since day one the coaches told me to know every route for every play so I bounced around to every position you could possibly be at so far but it’s helping me get on the field,” Pettis said. “I feel real comfortable. It’s just a lot different coming in and knowing the whole playbook and not necessarily thinking about what I have to do but just going out there and making the plays. I think that’s the biggest difference and it’s really helping me out.

Pettis finished his rookie season with 27 catches for 256 yards in limited opportunities but missed the final two games of the season because of a suspension for violation of the league’s banned substance policy.

Entering this season, Pettis will miss the first two games of the year. The Rams won’t have to make a decision on keeping him until those two games are up because he can go on the reserve/suspended list but when those two weeks are up, they’d have to make a choice on his future.

For now, Pettis is doing whatever he can to make his mark in this preseason and make the decision a difficult one for the coaching staff when the time comes.

“I can only control so much,” Pettis said. “The situation is what it is. I made a mistake last year and I have got to deal with it now. I know that’s a little bit of a disadvantage for me coming in with as much competition as we have at the wide receiver position so I think it was definitely extra motivation for me to come out and try to prove I can earn a spot on this team. It’s something the coaches will definitely have to look into but I think so far I am getting some decent feedback from the coaches and I am just going to try to keep getting better.”

MCINTOSH FINDING COMFORT LEVEL: Veteran linebacker Rocky McIntosh was a bit behind the curve entering this training camp after he signed at the end of the team’s final minicamp in June.

McIntosh does have a history playing in this defensive scheme but needed some time to get caught up to speed, particularly when it comes to the terminology, which has changed some since he was last in this system.

So far, McIntosh has spent the majority of his time as a backup outside linebacker but the Rams continue to cycle through different options and McIntosh has even gotten some work with the first team defense at strong side linebacker.

As that continues, don’t be surprised if McIntosh continues to get more work so long as he continues to build on his prior knowledge of the system and learns more from a terminology standpoint.

“It’s a familiar system,” assistant head coach Dave McGinnis said. “The terminology is different for him, but I can see him speeding up. I think you’ve watched the practices, you can see his game starting to speed up. He’s a player that plays with a lot of foot speed. He was a fast-twitch athlete coming out. You can see him speeding up now because the vocabulary is becoming more and more common to him now.”
MAJOR CHANGES: Rams running back Steven Jackson is, by far, the most tenured Ram on the roster even if he’s not the oldest.

As Jackson enters his ninth season on the team, he stopped to take stock of what is around him on the field. Any player that’s been in the league as long as Jackson will go through a lot of change but for Jackson, there has probably been more attrition than the average player.

“Yeah, it’s a whole new team,” Jackson said. “Last week, we had some old guys come back like (former Rams LB) Pisa Tinoisamoa, (former Rams C) Andy McCollum and those guys, and I was the only player that they recognized in there. It really says that there has been a lot of turnover. The guys that we have here, getting ready to be a part of this team and hopefully the 53-man roster, we’re very talented and we have depth at pretty much all positions. What’s going to happen over these next few games is going to be very interesting because we have some guys that are going to be valuable and that can actually make this roster.”

BIG GAME VISITS: Legendary Rams receiver Torry Holt officially retired as a Ram back in April and made it clear at the time that he hoped to be around the team more often in his retirement.

First, Holt showed up to participate in Fisher’s charity softball game and then Tuesday, he showed up at Rams’ training camp. Holt is around for a few days this week to be help out the receivers where he can and to brush up on some information for his role with the NFL Network.

Holt popped into the receivers meetings and talked to the wideout group with some words of encouragement during the day. He is expected to stick around until Thursday. Fellow former Rams great Aeneas Williams was also in the house on Tuesday.