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Shanahan explains what Pettis has to do to return punts for the 49ers this season

It starts with consistency

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Since the beginning of time, we’ve been searching for an answer why San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis doesn’t return punts for the team. On Thursday, Kyle Shanahan explained what Pettis has to do. Here was Shanahan’s answer:

“He’s got to be better than the other guys. We’ve got a number of guys who can do that. I think in order to be better than other guys, it starts with who can catch it the best. You can’t, no matter how good a guy is back there, you can’t put a guy back there who can’t consistently catch it. The number one thing on that is for us to end with the ball. They’ve already given it to us, so if you’re inconsistent catching the punts, you’re probably not going to get an opportunity in games.

So, whoever catches them very consistently in practice, then it’s going to be who – you’ve got to weigh it, weigh the risk and reward of who can make the biggest play and who can consistently get the most yards? Some guys don’t mess around and they can get you, just hit it straight every time and they get you at least a first down by getting a 10-yard run. Some guys only get like four yards, but every 20, they might have a chance of a touchdown where the guy who gets you 10 doesn’t have a chance.

So, you’ve got to weigh that off and see who has got the most play-making ability and who also is consistent as can be. We know Dante’s got some play-making ability. That’s why he has more kickoff returns and punt returns than anyone in the history of college football. So, we know he’s got some play-making ability. If he catches it out here consistent, he’ll get those opportunities in the game and then we’ll see how good his average is and how many big plays he makes.”

Based on Shanahan’s answer and his demeanor, you get the feeling that he doesn’t trust Dante to catch the ball every time he’s back there. He’s well aware of Pettis’s big-play ability, but Shanahan would prefer someone consistently get five or six yards, than risk a fumble.

So far, the returners have been Pettis, Trent Taylor, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jerick McKinnon. I’d say Taylor is the favorite to win the job as of today. He also has the lowest ceiling, but Taylor has the coaching staff’s trust. I wonder if, in specific scenarios, the team would throw Pettis or Aiyuk back there. Aiyuk was a fantastic punt returner himself. The scenario I’d imagine throwing one of the receivers back as a returner would be when the offense is pinned back in their end zone.

Separately, D.J. Jones is receiving more tests for his shoulder.