49ers mailbag: Dante Pettis awaits next opportunity to make difference

49ers mailbag: Dante Pettis awaits next opportunity to make difference

Who will it be next?

Who will be the unexpected player who ends up in a significant role for the 49ers on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game?

The 49ers play the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium with a trip to Super Bowl LIV on the line. And on the eve of the big game before the big game, we have another edition of the 49ers Mailbag.

Here we go. 

San Francisco receiver Dante Pettis sits at his locker every day during the time when the doors are open to the media around the lunch hour.

It had been a while since I wandered over to chat with Pettis. But on Friday, I wanted to check in with him to gauge how he was holding up during a stretch in which he has not gotten into a game since playing seven snaps against the Green Bay Packers in Week 12.

Pettis has suited up for the past four games, but he has not gotten off the sideline. He has not caught a pass since he had a 21-yard reception on Oct. 31 against the Arizona Cardinals. 

“I’m ready whenever that time comes,” Pettis told me. “Just waiting for that time now.”

Pettis, a second-round draft pick in 2018, was expected to be a starter and the team's top receiver after last season. Other than a game-winning touchdown catch with 1:15 remaining in a Week 3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pettis has been quiet.

But Pettis knows at any moment he might be needed to go into a game for Emmanuel Sanders or Deebo Samuel. it has been one of the hallmarks of the 49ers this season. A seldom-used player is called up, and he takes advantage of the situation.

That’s the nature of this year’s team. Guys have stayed ready and routinely taken advantage of their opportunities.

“You know that’s the reality when you have one play or whatever, you just have that in your mind,” Pettis said. “This is the play I have, I have to make the most of it. A lot of people have done a good job of that.

“We have a lot of depth on our team, and everybody can see that. The guys are backing up, they feel like they are good enough to play. When I get my shot, I’m going to be ready because I know I’m good enough to be out there to compete with these guys.”

Pettis said he has worked a lot with assistant receivers coach Miles Austin, who has emphasized to him that he does not have to do “fancy stuff” on every route. Just take the leverage you have, Austin has told him, be quick and decisive.

After speaking with Pettis, I went over to see running back Jeff Wilson. He provided one of the big moments of the season on Nov. 17 against the Arizona Cardinals. Wilson played one snap in that game. In the final minute, he ran a great route of the backfield, caught a pass from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and turned it into a game-winning 25-yard touchdown.

But with Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida ahead of him on the depth chart, Wilson has been inactive for four of the past five games.

Still, he remains ready with a great attitude.

“I just go out there and play like my life and my career depends on it because it actually does,” Wilson said. “I have a lot of stuff I’m trying to do, and I want to play this game for as long as I possibly can. And I know to do that, you have to make those plays whenever you’re called upon. Whether it’s one play or two plays, or if you go in to block, you have to do whatever it takes.”

Pettis and Wilson both said they feel energy and get inspiration from their teammates. Pettis said it’s exciting for him to see his friends in the receivers room experience individual success. Wilson said the other running backs treat him as an equal and he, in turn, feels an obligation to work hard and support them, too.

Oh, man, what a good question.

Ward is such an important part of the defense, so he gets the nod. He probably will not cost as much to retain, either.

But the 49ers have to feel pretty good about their options at both spots. There will be a time when Tarvarius Moore is a starting safety in the NFL. And at wide receiver, the 49ers hope to get Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd at full strength next season.

But let’s not for a second downplay Sanders’ importance to the 49ers. He has been so good in so many different ways since arriving in an October trade from the Denver Broncos. But Sanders will be 33 next season, and difficult decisions must be made.

From the beginning of the offseason program, the 49ers have thoroughly impressed me with their approach. They are focused on business while also maintaining balance, being loose and having a lot of fun. I saw absolutely nothing different in their approach this week. It starts at the top, and I feel as if coach Kyle Shanahan was built for this.

[RELATEDKittle takes center stage in NFC title game vs. Packers]

My guess is that TVs in the locker room will have the AFC Championship Game on, but there will be nobody pulling up a stool to watch. Dee Ford will be interested, for sure. The former member of the Kansas City Chiefs will check the score from time to time, but all the focus will be on the game that kicks off at 3:40 p.m.

Shanahan was not saying this week who will start at right cornerback. One would think Emmanuel Moseley will get the call, but Ahkello Witherspoon has to be ready to go. At the very least, he’ll play special teams, where he can make an impact in that area.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m

Joe Staley shows off impressive weight loss since 49ers retirement

Joe Staley shows off impressive weight loss since 49ers retirement

Joe Staley's work ethic never was in question during his decade-plus career as the 49ers' starting left tackle, and it appears that determination has continued into retirement.

Staley told ESPN's Emily Caplan in early July that he already has lost 50 pounds since retiring from the NFL in April, and a picture shared on Twitter by Sports Illustrated's Grant Cohn definitely shows the former offensive lineman's body transformation.

[RELATED: 49ers' Bosa 'not going to blame ref' for Super Bowl no-call]

"As an offensive lineman, you're always known as this big, humongous, unathletic blob," Staley said to ESPN. "Offensive linemen get casted in a movie, and they're always 500 pounds. Then you get the opportunity to be healthy again, and all of the effort you used to put into football, you put into that. It gives you a focus once you retire. It's a little bit vain, but I'm starting to see abs that I've always wanted. And it's kind of exciting."

Offensive lineman often must eat an incredible amount of food to maintain the 300-pound frames typically seen across NFL rosters.

Staley seems to be enjoying his retirement.

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

49ers' Trent Williams expects Jerick McKinnon 'breakout' 2020 season

49ers' Trent Williams expects Jerick McKinnon 'breakout' 2020 season

Trent Willams has seen more of what Jerick McKinnon can do on the football field than just about anyone over the last two years.

And when the 49ers’ new left tackle was asked which teammate he was most eager to watch on the field, McKinnon was at the top of the list.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Jet,” Williams told the Bay Area media on a video call. “After two years, the way he’s looked in the offseason, I just can’t fathom him not being a breakout player.”

The 49ers were expecting so much from McKinnon after they signed him on the first day of free agency in 2018, coach Kyle Shanahan had planned to unveil an offense in the regular season that would focus heavily on the running back’s ability as a route-runner and pass-catcher.

But McKinnon sustained a torn ACL one week before the regular-season opener. When the graft from that surgery did not fill in properly, McKinnon lost a second consecutive season. McKinnon accepted a greatly reduced salary this year to remain with the 49ers.

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

Williams, a seven-time Pro Bowl player, saw plenty of McKinnon’s skills during the offseason as he, McKinnon and Deebo Samuel were among those who worked out with star running back Adrian Peterson.

Samuel described those training sessions as the “one of the hardest workouts I’ve been doing since I’ve been playing football.”

McKinnon has been cleared to take part in 49ers practices, which begin Aug. 15. The 49ers’ first padded practice is scheduled for Aug. 17.

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Thrived through the worst of it

A post shared by Jet Mckinnon The Mayor (@jetmckinnon1) on

McKinnon figures to be a big part of the 49ers’ offense as a third-down back. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo recently said he is looking forward to seeing McKinnon take what he’s showing in workouts onto the field during the regular season.

“Even just throwing routes on air this offseason, he runs them differently than most running backs and he has a feel that's like a receiver, but he feels space like a quarterback,” Garoppolo said. “It's very unique and I'm excited to get him back, man. It's been a while.”

[RELATEDBosa says benefits of healthy offseason will show on field]

Williams ticked off other areas of the 49ers that have him excited, too. He spoke about tight end George Kittle and every level of the defense, including the “freakish” defensive line.

“I just want to get this team to a game,” said Williams, whom the 49ers acquired in an April trade with Washington. “It feels like college again, when we had three of the top four picks in the draft. I haven’t had this feeling since then.”

In 2013, Williams was one of three Oklahoma players to be chosen in the top four of the NFL draft. He went No. 4 to Washington, following quarterback Sam Bradford (No. 1 to the St. Louis Rams) and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (No. 3 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).