Over the past week or so, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has been challenging the wide receiver group. As mentioned previously, there is a certain 2018 second-round pick that Shanahan’s comments seemed to be directed at. The Athletic’s Matt Barrows recently addressed the topic in his mailbag. The question was, “Has Dante Pettis regressed, and why?” Here is what Barrows had to say:
No, Pettis definitely hasn’t regressed. In fact, he’s better than he was last year at this time because he knows the system so much better. But Kyle Shanahan clearly wants him to make a more significant leap forward. All of the coach’s comments in recent weeks in which he attempts to a light a fire beneath the receiver group appear to point to one in particular: Pettis.
That’s not a slam against him. Shanahan feels Pettis is talented enough to be a great receiver and wants to put pressure on him to reach that status. That’s also why Richard Sherman pushes Pettis in practice.
“I know what he’s capable of,” Sherman said. “If he wasn’t capable of being incredibly successful and being a great player — a No. 1 receiver — in this league, then who am I to try to pull something impossible out of him? But he’s definitely capable. He’s beyond capable. He’s incredibly talented.”
As of now, the 49ers have two receivers who play with an element of — there’s no great word for it — ferocity. They are Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd. (Deebo Samuel might have it, too.) I think the team would love to see that trait show up more often in Pettis’ game. He runs fantastic routes and has an ability to shake defenders that no other 49ers receiver has. But he hasn’t separated himself from the other receivers so far this summer.
Even before the 49ers discovered Taylor’s foot injury, the 49ers planned to sit him and Marquise Goodwin in last Saturday’s preseason opener because the team knows exactly what they have in them. Pettis, however, was one of the few high-status players who played. Why?
The 49ers are trying to guard against the sophomore slump that hit Ahkello Witherspoon and Adrian Colbert at the start of last season. Those players were virtually handed starting roles because there wasn’t much competition in training camp. The team doesn’t want Pettis to get too content, too comfortable.
“I wanted him to compete,” Shanahan said. “We’re trying to see who our starting receivers are and I wanted to get him a chance to get out there. … Dante has a lot of room to grow. He can still get a lot better. So can a lot of the other guys.”
Regressed isn’t an accurate description. We expect a player to improve the second a new season starts just because he has another year under his belt. That’s not fair to Pettis.
I love Sherman’s quote. It’s true. One of the first pieces I wrote on Niners Nation was how Pettis displayed the ability to be a No. 1 WR in this league. He’ll need to play a full season. He’ll need to be more consistent. It may not happen in 2019, but you want to see progress. Pettis has been inconsistent in August and Shanahan has all but mentioned his name in regards to it. That’s good coaching. Singling Pettis out might not be the way to motivate him. Using the wide receiver group as a whole will open everyone’s eyes up.
Pettis didn’t sit out the first preseason game because he didn’t give Shanahan a reason to. If you’re going based on pure talent, then it would have been a no-brainer to sit him. That’s not how this works, though. The depth chart would look completely different if you went off pure talent.
To me, Pettis is in a mini-funk. We’re talking about it now because it’s relevant and you’re not going to ignore it. If there were one or two occurrences where he was dropping the ball, or just not making plays we were accustomed to seeing him make, This will all be an afterthought when he goes 8-110-2 against Tampa Bay. This is what training camp is for. To shake off the rust. Pettis is too talented to fail.