ST. LOUIS – Last year was quite the rookie season for Rams wide receiver Austin Pettis.
The third round draft pick out of Boise State didn’t even dress until week three and then missed the final two games of the season as part of a four-game suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance.
In between, he had 27 catches for 256 yards in 12 games and returned 15 punts, three kick returns and had two tackles on special teams. Expected to provide an immediate boost to a struggling wide receiver group, Pettis instead showed his inexperience and youth for much of the year.
“It was definitely odd,” Pettis said Tuesday. “It was a learning experience, that was really the main thing for me. I did a lot of stuff. I got to help out on special teams, I did some punt returning, just a lot of different situations I was put in that I didn’t expect being a rookie.
“It was definitely a good learning experience for me, going through difficult situations and having a little bit of an off year and being able to come back with all that knowledge this year and kind of revamp.”
It’s early, but Pettis seems to have made significant strides as he prepares for year No. 2. Taking advantage of an injury to Brandon Gibson, Pettis started Sunday’s preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts and led the Rams with three catches for 25 yards.
He participated with the first team offense again during Tuesday’s practice and made several nice catches near the sidelines. He stayed after practice for several minutes to run extra routes and catch extra passes from the Rams quarterbacks.
Pettis also has the benefit of a full offseason of OTA’s and minicamps, something he didn’t get heading into his rookie season because of the NFL lockout last summer. And he’s noticed a big difference.
“I feel a lot more comfortable coming into this camp,” Pettis said. “It’s a lot easier I’d say and mentally that’s a big part of the game, so being able to come out and know the plays and play fast was something I wasn’t able to do as much as I wanted to last year. It’s been a big difference this year.
“It was something I was really looking forward to from early on last year, how much the offseason was going to do for me and just come in my second year and be a lot more comfortable and understand the situations. I think it’s really paid off for me because I feel a lot more confident this year and I’m starting to play a lot better than I did last year.”
Asked to single out some of the few positives from the Rams’ 38-3 loss Sunday in Indianapolis, new Rams coach Jeff Fisher went out of his way to mention a catch Pettis made on a throw from quarterback Sam Bradford in the first quarter.
Fisher also agreed with a reporter’s assessment that the wide receiver has made significant improvements from a year ago.
“Yes he has,” 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 was a healthy inactive the first two weeks of last season before dressing and making two catches for just eight yards in his Rams debut week three against the Baltimore Ravens. He had four catches for 32 yards the following week against the Redskins.
The 6-foot-3, 207-pound Pettis had four catches in three different games and recorded at least 30 yards receiving in six of his 12 games. He had a season-long 35-yard catch against the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 27.
But Pettis failed to score a touchdown before his season ended prematurely on Dec. 21 when the NFL announced that he had been suspended for four games due to a positive PED test. He served two games to finish out last season and will miss the first two games this year to finish the suspension.
Pettis doesn’t have a roster spot guaranteed but certainly has put himself in a good position with his solid first couple of weeks to camp. And armed with a year of experience and plenty of motivation, he’s shown no signs of slowing.
“I’m just coming out here trying to work hard,” Pettis said. “I know I’m in a difficult situation and we have new coaches too, so really I’m just trying to come out here and just earn the spot. That was really my main focus.
“We had all new coaches so I knew the only thing I could do is worry about things I could control and that was coming out and working hard and trying to make plays. I’m doing that so far and I hope it continues.”