Performing well during OTAs doesn't mean that a player will do the same when they are fully padded, or on game day. In fact, It's important to take everything with a grain of salt, at least until the end of the preseason. Even then, being cautious about players and teams performance is important even though it's hard.
It is interesting though that the player that has been getting the most hype from OTAs, besides rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin, is third year vet Austin Pettis.
Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had some interesting comments about Pettis during OTAs:
I think if you guys watch him, he does a great job of coaching these young guys. He's a professional. Quite honestly, he's probably having the best camp of all the skill players. He's just a tireless worker. Very competitive. He can play all the spots, which helps. He's having a tremendous spring.
High praise from the coach, but this doesn't seem like "coaches speech". It really seems as if the Rams like what they have seen from Pettis. That could be seen as a surprise with the new weapons and returning targets on the team.
He most likely won't have a 1,000 yard season for the Rams this year, but he should play an important role and could end up surprising people in getting more playing time than many people will believe.
How Pettis used last season
Last season Pettis was mainly used in the slot, playing backup to Danny Amendola who is now a member of the most hated team in the NFL, the New England Patriots. Last year, Pettis caught 30 passes for 261 yards and 4 touchdowns. His statistics were about the same as his rookie year, but the 4 touchdowns last season stand out as a big improvement.
Looking deeper into the stats, Pettis' role last season becomes clearer.
In the red zone, Pettis caught 5 passes for all four of his touchdowns and 19 yards. Moreover, 18 of Pettis catches came when the Rams were behind. In the 4th quarter is where Pettis played his best, grabbing 11 passes, gaining 95 yards, and having 2 touchdowns. In December, Pettis caught 16 passes for 129 yards, caught 2 touchdowns, and got 8 first downs out of 16 in that month.
What does all this mean? It certainly means he's a red zone threat for the Rams. He's useful in moving the chains, and the team can depend on him the make a catch in the 4th quarter.
Pettis can make tough catches. Pictures tell a thousand words, but you can find excitement in tweets.
Austin Pettis' catch on fourth-and-1 so impressive. Wet conditions, ball behind him, body going the other way. No win without it.— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@espn_nfcwest) December 9, 2012
Bradford pass tipped but WR Austin Pettis makes excellent catch on the rebound. #Rams take 6-3 lead.— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) December 30, 2012
Austin Pettis very good red zone threat for Rams. TD grab makes it 7-3 Rams. 49ers also out front now with Crabtree TD.— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@espn_nfcwest) December 30, 2012
Pettis' playing style
Pettis is a good route runner with good hands. He's adept at adjusting to the ball when it's in the air. A smart receiver that shines in short yardage situations, he makes some difficult catches. Pettis does a good job at fighting for the first down marker. Also one of the biggest strengths for Pettis is the fact that he has taken some big hits in his career, and on a majority of the catches where he got pummeled, he still maintained possession of the ball.
Pettis isn't perfect by any means. He doesn't get much separation, and he won't gain much YAC when the ball is in his hands. He doesn't run vertical routes well and won't gain much separation if he's running deep in man coverage. He's more of a working the middle of the field player.
(video via Rams on Demand)
Where does he fall on the Rams depth chart?
It's really early, but Pettis will most likely backup the slot and the X receiver (Brian Quick position). By all accounts, it sounds as though Pettis is ahead of Quick in the depth chart right now. It's just hard to visualize Pettis starting over Quick unless Quick is injured.
What will his role be this season?
This season could be an enhanced version of Pettis sophomore campaign. Pettis role with the Rams would ideally be him being used in the red zone and short yardage situations. It isn't a bad role for Pettis, and it's one that he played pretty well last season. Of course with the youth and inexperience of the Rams current corps, he will be relied upon more.
Honestly, it's hard for some people to realize that just because a player is a role player doesn't mean that a player is bad or a team can do well without him. Which of the Rams current wide receivers can do well in the red zone or short yardage situations? Brian Quick? It's possible, but it's impossible to guess how Quick will develop over these next few months. Stedman Bailey? He has the potential, but right now it's just potential.
So yes, Pettis will have an important role with the Rams. Will he have over 1,000 receiving yards? Probably not, but the Rams will struggle in the red zone and short yardage situations without Pettis being on the field for them.