49ers' Jalen Hurd, Deebo Samuel challenging Dante Pettis for starting job

49ers' Jalen Hurd, Deebo Samuel challenging Dante Pettis for starting job

SANTA CLARA -- After completing a promising rookie season, Dante Pettis was widely considered the only 49ers wide receiver with his spot in the starting lineup assured when training camp began.

Not so fast, coach Kyle Shanahan said Saturday following the 49ers’ 17-9 preseason-opening win over the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium.

After all, Pettis’ role on the team is being challenged by promising rookies Jalen Hurd and Deebo Samuel, who have aggressively entered the mix.

On a night when the 49ers chose to sit out nearly 20 healthy starters as precautions, Pettis started and played 17 snaps. Shanahan also seemed to issue a challenge to Pettis, the team's second-round draft pick in 2018.

“I wanted him to compete,” Shanahan said of Pettis. “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.”

Pettis had only one ball thrown his way Saturday -- a pass from Nick Mullens that was broken up. Pettis reached back for the deflected ball and barely got a hand on it.

Hurd ended up capitalizing on his opportunities with touchdown receptions of 20 and 4 yards on passes from Mullens and C.J. Beathard. Hurd had three catches for 31 yards.

“He’s worked a lot in the slot, and he’s also worked a lot outside at Z, so he’s been doing both,” Shanahan said. “I know he played mainly in the slot in college, but we move most of our guys all over, and he’s capable of doing both.”

Samuel, the 49ers’ second-round pick this year, had two catches for a game-high 61 yards. He made a leaping grab of an underthrown 45-yard pass from Beathard. Samuel liked what he saw from his fellow rookie, too.

“He played pretty well,” Samuel said of Hurd. “Like Coach Shanahan said, we bring the physicality in the group. That over route for a touchdown that he caught, you can see with his big frame and with his body it is going to take more than one person to bring him down.”

Hurd and Samuel bring a different mentality to the 49ers’ receiver group. While Hurd was formerly a running back, Samuel looks like a running back and runs like a running back with the ball in his hands. Both are physical players -- an area of Pettis’ game that the 49ers would like to see him improve.

In a crowded receiving corps -- a group that also includes Jordan Matthews and Kendrick Bourne -- the rookies are beginning to separate themselves.

“A strong showing [Saturday], obviously,” Mullens said of Hurd and Samuel. “We know what they bring to the table, and it’s cool to see that. But at the same time, it’s a first step. It’s only the first preseason game and so we’re excited to see how they can go going forward.”

Said Beathard: “They’re definitely progressing well as rookies, I think. The rest of the offense is really coming along, and they’re doing a really good job.”

Hurd (6-foot-4, 227 pounds) showed his versatility Saturday when he lined up in the slot, took a pass on a crossing pattern and plowed over Dallas defensive back Kavon Frazier at the goal line. Hurd's second touchdown came when he lined up wide and made a leaping grab against tight coverage.

“I can do different things,” Hurd said. “We will see what they do with me. I love the opportunity, so I am just trying to seize the opportunity and make a play.”

Hurd was a running back who rushed for 2,635 yards and 20 touchdowns in three seasons at Tennessee. After an injury-plagued 2016 season, he asked to switch to wide receiver. When the coaching staff balked at that request, he transferred to Baylor for his final college season. The 49ers selected him in the third round of the draft this year.

[RELATED: Mullens, Beathard, neck-and-neck for backup QB]

“When I first switched to receiver, I was on the JUGS machine for a very long, long time,” Hurd said. “I would catch five to six hundred balls [a day] in the offseason when I switched over to receiver.

“I am really just playing it out and consistently staying on it. Being strong as well helps and then having good balls skills, which kind of goes hand-in-hand.”

49ers sign Damontre Moore, place Ronald Blair on season-ending IR

49ers sign Damontre Moore, place Ronald Blair on season-ending IR

SANTA CLARA -- Defensive end Damontre Moore made a strong bid for a roster spot with the 49ers with an impressive training camp and exhibition season.

Moore finally made it to the team’s 53-man roster on Wednesday, filling the roster spot that was vacated when the 49ers placed defensive end Ronald Blair on injured reserve. Blair is scheduled for season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee.

Moore, 27, has appeared in 54 games over the past seven seasons with the New York Giants, Miami, Seattle, Dallas and the Raiders. He has 10 sacks in his NFL career.

Moore signed a one-year contract with the 49ers on Wednesday after originally coming to the organization in the spring.

[RELATED: Shanahan confirms Witherspoon will resume starting role]

He played with the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football in the spring, and signed with the 49ers. He registered two sacks during the preseason but was among the team’s final cuts when the 49ers were required to trim their roster from 90 players to the regular-season limit of 53.

Blair served as the 49ers’ No. 3 edge rusher behind Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. Moore is likely to see action in a backup role, beginning Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium.

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury expects 49ers' George Kittle to play

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury expects 49ers' George Kittle to play

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is hopeful tight end George Kittle will make a quicker-than-expected recovery to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

And Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday that his team is preparing as if they will face Kittle at his best at Levi’s Stadium this weekend.

Kittle, the 49ers’ top receiving threat, sat out the 49ers’ game Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks due to unspecified left knee and ankle issues he sustained on Oct. 31 against Arizona. Kingsbury was asked on a conference call with Bay Area reporters if he expects to see Kittle in top form on Sunday.

“No doubt,” Kingsbury said. “I thought it was amazing that he was able to stay in our game and push through and have such a great night.

“He’s one of the best, if not the best, tight ends in the league -- just kind of a physical freak. That’s matched by his personality, his relentlessness, his want to. It’s through the roof. As a competitor, you appreciate that. And I’m sure he’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”

Kittle sustained the injury on the first play of the 49ers’ Week 9 game against the Cardinals when the helmet of Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones struck Kittle’s knee as they were running toward each other on a running play. Kittle was blocking, and Jones went to the ground as he made the tackle on 49ers running back Tevin Coleman.

[RELATED: 49ers coach Shanahan losing patience with Dante Pettis]

Kittle exited the game, but he returned to play 49 of the 49ers’ 70 offensive snaps in the Thursday night game. Kittle caught six passes for 79 yards, including an impressive 30-yard TD where he threw Arizona safety Budda Baker to the ground near the goal line.

But the impact from the injuries worsened to the point that Kittle could not continue to play in the fourth quarter. He did not practice all last week, and he remains questionable -- or, even, doubtful -- for this week’s game.

“Kittle’s just a little bit of a different bird,” Shanahan said to reporters Tuesday. “We’re never going to decide on Kittle too early in the week. He’s always got a chance with some of the stuff he’s been able to go through here in these last couple years.”