49ers' Jerick McKinnon undergoes right knee surgery, focusing on 2020

49ers' Jerick McKinnon undergoes right knee surgery, focusing on 2020

SANTA CLARA – As the 49ers were packing for their trip Friday afternoon to Tampa, Florida, running back Jerick McKinnon moved across the locker room on crutches with a brace on his right knee.

Several teammates approached to hug him and wish him well. McKinnon will miss his second consecutive season since signing with the 49ers on the first day of free agency in 2017.

McKinnon underwent surgery Tuesday on his right knee – the same knee but a different condition that kept him out last year. He sustained a torn ACL and cartilage damage a year ago. McKinnon said it is "reassuring" his ACL and meniscus cartilage are fine. Other unspecified issues plagued him this summer when he twice attempted to return to practice.

“I know what I got to do,” McKinnon said. “These guys have a good plan for me. It’s about staying mentally in it and support my teammates, and doing what I need to do to make sure I’m healthy coming back next year.

“It wasn’t feeling right, and there were some other things that needed to be fixed.”

McKinnon made it clear he wants to be back with the 49ers next season.

“I love this team,” he said. “That’s why I came here. I love the coaching staff, the whole organization, the Yorks, John (Lynch), Kyle (Shanahan), all the coaches. Coach (Bobby) Turner and everyone has been supportive -- behind me, 100 percent, and there’s nothing more you can ask for.”

But in order for McKinnon to return to the 49ers next season, it seems likely the 49ers would want to seek a dramatic reduction from his scheduled $6.5 million base salary for 2020.

“For me, it’s about making sure I’m 100 percent coming back next year,” McKinnon said. “Definitely, (It’s) tough being out two seasons in a row. It’s not what I envisioned for myself when I came here. But that’s my journey, and that’s what I have to deal with. And I got to do what I got to do to make sure I come back 110 percent next season.”

The 49ers open the season Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida expected to share the load at running back. Raheem Mostert also will be available on game days and could be mixed into the action, too. Even without a healthy McKinnon, the 49ers have a lot of speed in their backfield.

When asked what he expects to see from his teammates this season, McKinnon had a simple answer,

“A lot of explosive plays. Nothing less," McKinnon said.

[RELATED: Jimmy G among five 49ers to watch in Week 1 vs. Bucs]

Breida battled an ankle injury but still managed to rush for 814 yards last season. Coleman had his best season, gaining 800 yards with the Atlanta Falcons. Mostert averaged 7.7 yards on 34 attempts before he fractured his forearm. McKinnon called Kyle Juszczyk the best fullback in the league.

“You saw what Matt did last year, playing with an ankle injury,” McKinnon said. “You know what Tevin can do from Atlanta.

“Like I said before the season, our group is going to be explosive, making a lot of plays, show a lot of speed, and the coaches are going to do a great job of keeping all those guys fresh.”

Kyle Shanahan explains why Dante Pettis was not 49ers' punt returner

Kyle Shanahan explains why Dante Pettis was not 49ers' punt returner

INDIANAPOLIS -- No punt returner in the history of college football was as dynamic as Dante Pettis.

But in two seasons since the 49ers traded up to take him in the second round of the 2018 draft, Pettis has gotten only 11 opportunities to return punts.

All of Pettis’ chances came during his rookie season. While his play time at wide receiver dwindled to non-existent over the second half of the recently completed season, he was not even able to make a contribution special teams.

Why? Coach Kyle Shanahan said it was as simple as this: Richie James was better.

“We didn’t think he was our best guy,” Shanahan said of Pettis at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Pettis set the NCAA record with nine punt returns for touchdowns. After Pettis visited the 49ers, the club selected him with the No. 44 overall draft pick. As a rookie, he fumbled twice while averaging just 3.0 yards on nine returns. He also sustained a knee injury on an early season return against the Los Angeles Chargers.

In 2019, James was reliable. He was fifth in the NFL in return yards and did not have a fumble on 33 punt returns while averaging a respectable 8.0 yards per return.

Shanahan said he wants Pettis to put up a battle to compete with James for the job in 2020. He said he has expressed that expectation to Pettis, too.

“He knows that,” Shanahan said. “I think he’s got a chance to be (the punt returner). But we felt more comfortable with Richie. And I hope Dante tries to take that job from him.

“It’s his decision. He’s got to show it. I guess, it comes down to my decision, but he should make it for me.”

Pettis averaged 17.3 yards on 27 receptions and caught five touchdown passes as a rookie. But his production dropped off in his second season, as he caught just 11 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. He will be fighting for a spot on the 2020 team.

Shanahan said he wants Pettis to be on a mission during his second offseason to come back as a stronger, better and more-focused player. He said Pettis took a “documented” step back in his second season.

[RELATED49ers' receivers could change in 2020]

Shanahan said second-year players who struggle after promising rookie seasons can go either way.

“They keep being like that, and they usually filter out,” Shanahan said, “or it’s a wakeup call for them and they come back and you see It in April. They treated January to April so much different than the year before, and then it usually changes their career.”

Tyrann Mathieu explains how Chiefs stopped 49ers at end of Super Bowl


Tyrann Mathieu explains how Chiefs stopped 49ers at end of Super Bowl

The 49ers entered the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV with a 10-point lead over the Kansas City Chiefs, before eventually falling, 31-20. Even as they began squandering their lead, San Francisco had its chances to become champions. 

Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers found themselves in a 24-20 deficit with 2:44 remaining. The eight-play driving ended in four straight incomplete passes and Jimmy G being sacked on fourth down. 

After the Chiefs scored on a two-play drive to increase their lead to 11 points, Kansas City cornerback Kendall Fuller intercepted a Garoppolo pass intended for rookie Deebo Samuel down the field with only 57 seconds remaining. The rest is history. 

"We knew that obviously they were gonna try to get the ball to [George] Kittle," Chiefs defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said Thursday on Fs1's "First Things First." "But most importantly I felt that Deebo Samuel was their guy." 

[RELATED: Five defensive backs 49ers should watch during combine]

Mathieu said he and Fuller actually went over the route where Garoppolo was picked off ... one series prior to their prediction coming true. 

"On the interception that Kendall Fuller caught, we had actually communicated the series before about that same route concept," Mathieu explained. "We just thought that they were gonna put Kittle at No. 3 and try to force him the ball down the middle."

General manager John Lynch reiterated his confidence in Garoppolo on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, and coach Kyle Shanahan certainly has gone over every situation from his latest Super Bowl loss this offseason. The two know they can't dwell on the past, though. 

It's time to look ahead and focus on making another run at the Lombardi Trophy.