ST. LOUIS (AP) St. Louis wide receiver Austin Pettis is still struggling with the old man tag.
At age 25 and with two years’ experience, Pettis is the grizzled veteran of the Rams’ receiving corps, which is the youngest in the NFL.
“Never really thought of myself in that way because I’m still young,” Pettis said. “It’s fun being a leader to some of the younger players. But I’m not that old.”
Pettis is the leader, at least in teams of experience and age, of a group that includes rookies Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and second-year players Brian Quick and Chris Givens.
St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford has a quintet of speedy targets, and Pettis is the most tenured of the group.
“He’s taking a bigger role,” Bradford said of Pettis. “Plus, he’s got the experience to help everyone else out there.”
Pettis, who was drafted in the third round of the 2011 draft, caught 57 passes for 517 yards in his first two seasons but was never a main target playing behind Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson.
Now, the former Boise State standout is being asked to take a much larger role while the younger receivers learn the ropes.
Austin, the Rams’ first-round draft choice and eighth overall selection out of West Virginia, has picked Pettis’ brain during the first few weeks of training camp.
Pettis remembers what it was like to learn the complex offense during his first two seasons. And he is happy to share his knowledge.
“I know it was a hard experience for me, so I know what a lot of these guys are going through,” Pettis said. “I’ve helped them with a lot of stuff and as long as they keep on asking me, I’m happy to help out.”
Pettis closed out the 2012 campaign on a roll with touchdown catches in his last two games. He caught five passes in back-to-back contests against Buffalo and Minnesota in Weeks 14 and 15. He scored the Rams’ lone touchdown in a season-ending 20-13 loss in Seattle.
Pettis left Boise State holding school records in career receptions (229) and touchdowns (39).
He caught 27 passes in a 12-game rookie season that was marred by a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He sat out the final two games of 2011 and the first two contests in 2012.
The 6-foot-3, 203-pounder is known for his skills close to the goal line. All four of his TD catches have come in the red zone.
Pettis enters this season with high expectations. After a pair of solid campaigns, he feels it is time to break out. Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer says Pettis had a strong offseason and big things are expected from him this time around.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while,” Pettis said. “It was just a matter of time until all the things clicked and I think that’s happening now. We’ve got a lot of weapons on this team and I think the ball is going to be spread around a lot.
I just want to be part of it.”
Pettis is impressed with what he’s seen from the younger wideouts. Austin and fellow West Virginia product Bailey, a third-round selection, have looked good. Bailey caught two passes for 27 yards in a 27-19 loss at Cleveland last Thursday.
“Honestly, we’re a pretty confident group right now in the locker room, and I don’t mean that in a bad way,” Pettis said. “We’ve put in a lot of work and a lot of time. We’re just excited to go out there and show the rest of the league what we can do.
Even though we’re young, we’ve got a lot of smart guys and a lot of talented guys.”
Most of the St. Louis players were given Wednesday off. Fisher held a special teams-only practice in the afternoon. A full-squad workout, open to the public, was held Thursday.