49ers expect Dante Pettis to have more opportunities to return punts

49ers expect Dante Pettis to have more opportunities to return punts

SANTA CLARA — Dante Pettis, the all-time college record-holder with nine career punt return touchdowns, concentrated on being a wide receiver during his rookie season with the 49ers.

Pettis handled just 11 punts as a rookie, as he got injured on an early-season punt return and ended up missing four games. When he went back deep, he struggled to field the ball. Pettis had a 3.0 yard average on the nine punts he returned.

“I wouldn’t say Dante wasn’t effective as much as he didn’t have as many opportunities that hopefully he’ll have this year,” 49ers special-teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. “We’ve just got to get in there. First, we’ve got to catch the ball, that’s No. 1 -- take care of the football and secure the football to give it back to the offense. That’s our No. 1 job.”

There was the underlying thought that coach Kyle Shanahan wanted Pettis to concentrate on learning the playbook and honing his skills as a wide receiver before getting deeply involved in special teams.

This season, Pettis figures to be a starter from Week 1. But that does not preclude him from earning the job as the 49ers’ primary punt returner, Hightower said.

Pettis, Trent Taylor, Richie James and D.J. Reed have gotten the most work fielding punts through the first week of training camp.

“Kyle’s philosophy is put the best player out there that helps us win,” Hightower said. “I don’t know of him to be any other way than wanting to win games. So if Dante’s the best, then he’ll want Dante back there. If Trent’s the best, if whoever’s the best. D.J., Richie, we can go down the line, Kyle Shanahan is interested in one thing and that’s winning football games.”

James, Taylor and Pettis combined last season to average just 5.8 yards on 31 punt returns. Taylor had a strong rookie season in 2017 with a 9.4 average on 30 returns. But he struggled last season after being slow to return to full health and speed after undergoing offseason back surgery.

James and Reed showed promise on kickoff returns as rookies. James had a 97-yard touchdown return on a kickoff, and Reed averaged 30.2 yards on 11 kickoff returns, including one for 90 yards.

“What I’ve seen from those guys is a fierce competition right now in terms of those guys going out there trying to get it,” Hightower said.

“We’ve got a lot of different guys in there and the fun thing about this is one day one guy does a good job and then the next day the other guy steps up and does the better job and then another guy steps up and does the job.”

[RELATED: Nick Bosa's skills as pass-rusher becomes a show stopper at 49ers practice]

Matt Breida, who led the 49ers with 814 yards and an impressive 5.3-yard average last season, does not figure to be the team’s lead back this season with the addition of Tevin Coleman and the return of Jerick McKinnon. That opens the door for Breida to compete to handle kickoff returns, too.

Having a bevy of young options on punt and kickoff returns has prompted Hightower to shift his concerns to other areas of those special-teams units, he said.

“What I’m focused on now is the front line and the blocking,” Hightower said. “I want to block, because I know we’ve got guys that can return. That’s not a concern when I go to sleep at night.”

Ex-49ers first-round pick Joshua Garnett cut by Lions after six months

Ex-49ers first-round pick Joshua Garnett cut by Lions after six months

Josh Garnett's NFL career has hit another snag.

The former 49ers first-round pick was cut by the Detroit Lions over the weekend as the team reduces the roster to 80 players. Garnett signed with Detroit in February after spending the 2019 season out of the NFL.

San Francisco traded up to select Garnett at No. 28 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, as the Stanford product was one of the nation's top offensive lineman. Garnett won the Outland Trophy in his senior season with the Cardinal, given annually to the NCAA's best interior lineman.

[RELATED: McGlinchey hopes 49ers, NFL players hold selves accountable]

Garnett started 11 games as a rookie with the 49ers, but was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury just prior to the start of the 2017 season. Garnett was unable to secure a starting spot in 2018 and played just seven games.

After denying his fifth-year option, the 49ers made Garnett one of the organization's final cuts before the 2019 campaign.

Just 26 years old, it remains to be seen where Garnett might find his next home in the NFL.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

49ers' Mike McGlinchey hopes NFL players hold themselves accountable

49ers' Mike McGlinchey hopes NFL players hold themselves accountable

The 49ers are scheduled to open the 2020 NFL season on Sept. 13 against the Arizona Cardinals.

They will compete head-to-head against the teams on their 16-game regular-season schedule, but 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey also is mindful that all players – even those on different teams – are on the same side in trying to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Typically, almost anything goes in the midst of a pileup at the line of scrimmage, where the same defensive linemen and offensive linemen might be waging one-on-one battles in close quarters for more than 60 snaps a game.

This season, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more might be at stake on game days than just the outcome of a football game.

“You really hope guys are really pros about everything that’s going on this season because it’s not just your teammates and your teammates’ families,” McGlinchey said Monday in a video call with Bay Area reporters. “Once you start playing games, you’re affecting the entire league at that point.

“Hopefully, everybody can have the discipline and control and the accountability to one another that we can make this thing move as smoothly as possible, especially in the trenches when we are up close and personal.”

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The hopes of the NFL being able to carry out an entire season will be contingent on teams reducing the spread of the virus. Oakley has developed a clear plastic face shield designed to block the direct path of droplets while allowing for airflow and soundwaves for communication.

McGlinchey said he will try it out at some point in training camp once helmets are allowed during practices, but he will not switch to the new protective device if he believes it hinders his ability to breathe.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]