49ers

Dante Pettis' progression gives Kyle Shanahan high expectations for 2019

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USATSI

Dante Pettis' progression gives Kyle Shanahan high expectations for 2019

SANTA CLARA — Dante Pettis‘ unique style of movement is what drew coach Kyle Shanahan to the wide receiver prior to the draft. As the 49ers rookie wide receiver progresses, his potential is being seen.

“If you just watch how Pettis moves,” Shanahan said. “I think he has pretty freakish body movement. The way he glides, he almost euro-steps as he runs routes and stuff and that’s talent.”

Shanahan mentioned that while Pettis' speed might not stand out like Marquise Goodwin or his size and explosiveness like Julio Jones, the characteristics of his movement make him valuable. 

“Pettis is pretty unique in how he moves,” Shanahan said, “and how coordinated he can control his body in some awkward positions. That’s why I think he’s been such a good punt returner. He’s got the hands too.”
 
The evaluation of college receivers entering the draft isn’t the easiest Shanahan explained. College receivers rarely play through getting held or against man-to-man coverage. That leads to uncertainty about their transition into the NFL. 

The film on Pettis that was so intriguing for Shanahan and the 49ers staff to see was on his returns. Pettis holds the NCAA record for punt returns for a touchdown with nine. 

“Sometimes you’ve got to watch a guy like Pettis on a punt return,” Shanahan said, “and be like, ‘He doesn’t do this move on any of his routes, but look what he does when a guy’s right in front of him and he has the ball in his hand and he can double a guy up and make him miss.

“And that’s exactly what he should do on his routes.’ So, you know his body is capable of doing it. Can you coach him? Will it transfer over? Then you look at all of the other stuff, coachability, test scores, how great they want to be.”

[RELATED: NFL QB Power Rankings: Nick Mullens finishes 2018 season in Top 20]

The more Shanahan has been around Pettis, the more his intangibles have come out. Will they be able to get separation? How are their hands? Will they be able to handle going across the middle without dropping the ball? 

"He’s also shown to us that he can be tough too. He’ll go in there and crack on guys. He doesn’t just turn stuff down," Shanahan said. "He can get more consistent on that, but he’s shown he has all of the tools to be a very good receiver. We’ll see how high that ceiling goes to.”

Pettis’ learning curve was slightly stunted when he missed a few weeks after sustaining a knee injury in a punt return in Week 4. Over 11 games he has caught 24 of his 40 targets for 446 yards and five touchdowns, giving him a 18.6 average yards per reception. 

Shanahan is expecting continued progress from Pettis over the remaining two games and heading into next season, and certainly likes his development.

“It’s very encouraging,” Shanahan said. “I’ll definitely make a point that he hasn’t found his way fully yet. He’s still got to keep going. But Pettis, he’s has had the ability to do it since he got here and that’s why we were excited to get him.

“He’s going to come back next year better or worse, and it better be better.”

Why Kyle Shanahan wasn't shocked by 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky's hit

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USATSI

Why Kyle Shanahan wasn't shocked by 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky's hit

One of the highlights of the 49ers 24-15 preseason win in Denver was fourth-round pick Mitch Wishnowsky’s tackle of the player returning his own kickoff. 

In the middle of the third quarter, 6-foot-2, 220-pound Wishnowsky drilled the ball four yards deep into the end zone but Broncos 5-foot-7, 170 pounds running back Devontae Jackson still thought it was a good idea to bring it out.

Right at about the 24-yard line the punter made contact with Jackson and drove him into the ground a few yards back. 

Video of the hit has since gone viral and it will likely be a while before Jackson lives that play down. 

After the game, Wishnowsky said the tackle wasn’t too reminiscent of his Australian football days but still enjoyable. 

“You don’t really get too many head on,” Wishnowsky said. “It’s a lot of sort of wrap-up tackles, but yeah, it was nice to get one.” 

Wishnowsky also explained why he was so far down the field on the play.

“I hang back and then if there’s a gap to fill, I’ll just run in there,” Wishnowsky said. “Sort of half expecting him to sort of out step me but he didn’t so it worked out.” 

Via conference call, coach Kyle Shanahan shared that he wasn’t surprised of Wishnowsky’s ability, but he also doesn’t want to see that on a regular basis. Shanahan, however, was very complimentary of his punter’s technique. 

[RELATED: Wishnowsky's Madden rating increases after hit]

“I was not shocked at all,” Shanahan said. “That’s what rugby players do. I don’t know if we want to make a living out of doing that but it’s good for the other 10 guys to see if they’re not on it, he might get down there and take their stats away. 

“I was very impressed with it. It was a perfect form leverage-side tackle.” 

Why it's obvious 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo has significant hurdles to clear

Why it's obvious 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo has significant hurdles to clear

Jimmy Garoppolo has a mental barrier to overcome to be the kind of quarterback he and the 49ers -- not to mention the team’s fan base -- expect him to become.

It is only natural that a player, any player, returning from a significant injury must deal with overcoming the mental side of the challenge. That occurs when he no longer thinks about the injury or can just react naturally and instinctively.

In the case of Garoppolo, it’s his front leg while throwing passes. He sustained a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 3 of last season at Kansas City.

That knee, which has been fitted with a bulky yet lightweight brace, is closest to the oncoming pass rush.

Garoppolo has always used a vast repertoire of pass styles -- sometimes flat-footed with different arm angles. But it seemed to be more pronounced on Monday. He did not appear to be stepping into his throws while going 1-for-6 with an interception and zero yards passing against the Denver Broncos in his preseason debut.

Coach Kyle Shanahan speaking on a conference call with Bay Area reporters on Tuesday, expressed no concern about the mostly futile 11-play sequence for Garoppolo and the 49ers’ first-team offense.

“You always want to play better, but to get concerned over 10 plays, that’s pretty irresponsible,” Shanahan said.

Garoppolo, likewise, did not admit to any concern after the game. He said he was already looking forward to getting back on the field, where he is expected to have a longer outing in the upcoming Week 3 of the preseason.

"It's something that I haven’t done in a year, obviously, so I’ve got to knock the rust off and everything,” Garoppolo said afterward. “Thankfully, we have a short week this week, so we can bounce back quickly. But it's the first step of getting back into it."

The 49ers’ next game, Saturday night at Kansas City, should provide yet another update on Garoppolo’s comeback.

By and large, Garoppolo’s return has been uneventful -- even “flawless,” in the words of general manager John Lynch. Of course, Monday was also the first time in 11 months he faced a defense that was not instructed to keep its distance.

But even in those practices against his teammates, Garoppolo seemed to struggle and come up short on passes in which he did not throw from a clean pocket. That was particular apparent on Friday in a practice against the Broncos when Garoppolo threw an interception when Von Miller was on the ground, in the vicinity of his left leg.

After the game on Monday, Garoppolo said he did not consider his knee to be any kind of issue.

"Honestly, I really wasn’t thinking about it out there, so I'm happy about that,” Garoppolo said. “Just in general, it didn’t bother me that much."

It’s quite possible Garoppolo did not consciously realize he was wary of the very natural inclination to protect himself.

Perhaps, the game Monday served its purpose. Perhaps, Garoppolo has cleared the mental hurdle of returning to action against an enemy defense that wants to hit him and hit him hard.

[RELATED: Boston radio trolls Jimmy G after horrid preseason outing]

The next barrier to clear is when he absorbs his first big hit.

“I think those will just come naturally,” Garoppolo said. “It's football, and you know what you sign up for and everything, so I think there's value here in wanting that. I think I’ll build that in due time.”