San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis has been under some scrutiny this preseason, prompting head coach Kyle Shanahan to make some provocative remarks about Pettis’ efforts.
This is typically unusual for a player pegged to be a starter during the regular season, and that was the trajectory after Pettis flashed signs of being a No. 1 target over the final five games of his rookie campaign last year.
When asked why he kept Pettis in the game late, head coach Kyle Shanahan responded, “He’s still trying to earn a role on this team and he’s still trying to show us what he’s capable of doing consistently.”
Pettis has had up-and-down moments during training camp, including a number of dropped passes, as reported from a number of team insiders in their post-practice reports. And while Pettis’ stock value is significantly higher than a good chunk of other wideouts vying for a spot on what’s shaping up to be a crowded wide receiver depth chart, Shanahan’s actions and comments suggest something else.
So, is Pettis actually in danger of missing out on a roster spot this season?
On the surface, Shanahan’s words appear to make the suggestion a possibility. But there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.
Through three preseason games, Pettis has just 65 snaps. Fellow depth receivers Richie James (74) and Kendrick Bourne (104) have notably more during that span. If Pettis’ role wasn’t clearly defined, one could conclude he should have a much higher snap count, especially if there was serious risk of him not making the 53-man roster.
Plus, it would be almost foolish to think the 49ers would be willing to part ways with a player on whom they used a second-round NFL Draft pick just a season ago, moving up to No. 44 overall in the process.
A more-reasonable suggestion is Shanahan is merely trying to light a proverbial fire under Pettis, pushing him to emerge as a top-tier threat — something he flashed an ability to be late in 2018.
Pettis is still one of San Francisco’s best route runners on the roster, which was a trait he displayed in college at Washington.
Those skills simply don’t evaporate. And while there may be questions about Pettis’ work ethic and living up to his potential, largely stemming from Shanahan’s recent comments, it seems more to be a motivational tactic from the head coach than anything else.
As such, there’s a strong possibility Shanahan plays Pettis during the Niners’ fourth and final preseason bout on Thursday against the Los Angeles Chargers — a game which will mostly feature 49ers backups and reserves, not would-be starters.
Shanahan and Co. then have to trim the 90-man offseason rosters down to 53 players the following Saturday.
Seeing Pettis on the cut list would be an absolute shocker.