SEATTLE — 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan really lit a fire under Dante Pettis in Tampa, and the receiver's past two games have shown the positive results.
Shanahan got in Pettis’ face on the sideline during the team’s Week 12 loss to the Buccaneers, telling the rookie he expected more. Pettis didn’t flinch, and he finished the game with four catches for 77 yards and the only touchdown catch of the day.
Pettis’ productivity continued in the 49ers’ 43-16 loss to the Seahawks. He was one of the few bright spots of the game, with five catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
After the game, Pettis spoke about Shanahan’s expectations of him.
“Yeah, he challenges me all the time,” Pettis said. “Every single play, I know that he expects more out of me. We’ve had a few talks about what he expects, so I guess you could say that kind of sparked something.
“It’s nothing different than what I expect from myself, but when the head coach kind of calls you out, then it’s like, 'OK, I guess I got to really get going.' ”
Pettis’ chemistry with quarterback Nick Mullens has visibly developed over the his last two starts.
“I know where he’s going to be,” Mullens said. “He runs great routes, and he’s done a really good job these past two games of just finding a knack for getting open.”
The team had high expectations for Pettis, moving up in the 2018 NFL Draft to select him in the second round as the 44th overall pick. He finished his college career at Washington with an average reception of 13.8 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also recorded a record nine punt returns for touchdowns over his college career.
Pettis' development was stunted after a knee injury kept him off the field for three consecutive weeks. The coaching staff has been slowly working him in the 49ers' lineup since then. It was important to keep him healthy with Pierre Garçon’s injury as well as Marquise Goodwin’s absence from the team.
Part of Pettis’ progress is his ability to read what the defense was going to do and take advantage of it.
“Right away when we lined up,” Pettis said on his 75-yard touchdown. “I saw the safety was down low on the other side. Normally I’m supposed to take a sharper angle, and I saw that there was no safety in the middle of the field, so I kind of took it higher and just hoped that Nick saw it, too, and he hit me in stride.”
Mullens is seeing Pettis' progress and that the rookie wide receiver's potential is coming out.
“He’s done a great job the past couple weeks really coming on,” Mullens said. “And I think we all know that he has the ability to be a very good player for the Niners. People are starting to see that, and we’re pumped for him. You know we’re excited to see him developing."
It's safe to say Shanahan is happy with how Pettis has responded to him as well.
“He had a number of plays,” Shanahan said. “I think he got in the end zone twice. It was two good routes on both of those. He did a good job when he had the opportunities.”
Pettis also had a little more to prove Sunday, returning to the city where he spent his college career. There certainly was a little more emotion involved in preparing for this week’s game.
“Kind of,” Pettis said, “I mean, I love this city. I’ve been here for four years. It’s always cool to come back, but it sucks that we lost here. I wanted to get a win out here, but we couldn’t do that. It was cool at first, before the game and everything, but now it’s not too great.”