Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Dante Pettis could still return punts despite increased role within 49ers offense, says Richard Hightower

Aug 2, 2019 at 1:27 PM--

You might remember that wide receiver Dante Pettis first injured his knee last year while returning a punt against the Los Angeles Chargers. That left some wondering why the San Francisco 49ers were continuing to use their second-round pick in those situations and risking injury to a player who is expected to be a significant contributor on offense.

The answer is simple. Pettis was the best player for the role, so that's where head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted him. It didn't matter that he was a high draft pick.

Pettis returned an FBS-record nine punts for touchdowns over his collegiate career while averaging 14.2 yards per return. Four of those nine touchdowns came during his senior year. He had 1,274 return yards in 90 attempts during his time at Washington.

"Kyle's philosophy is put the best player out there that helps us win," special teams coordinator Richard Hightower told reporters on Friday. "I don't know of him to be any other way than wanting to win games. So if Dante is the best (this year), then he'll want Dante back there. If Trent (Taylor) is the best or whoever is the best, D.J. (Reed), Richie (James), we can go down the line.

"Kyle Shanahan is interested in one thing, and that's winning football games. And that goes with players and coaches. A lot of us that have known Kyle a long time (know) the only thing he worries about is football games and winning. That's his number one goal."

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It isn't Hightower's job to worry about what players are doing on offense. He just works with what Shanahan makes available to him. That could still include Pettis this year despite the expectations that the receiver will see an increased role on offense.

Hightower hopes Pettis has more opportunities to serve as a returner. If the second-year receiver does, Hightower also hopes to give him a little more help.

"If we can create more space up front, then you'll see Dante break free just like you saw Trent do the year before," Hightower said.

Whoever lines up back there for punt returns will benefit from the intense offseason competition thus far.

"What I've seen from those guys is a fierce competition right now in terms of those guys going out there and trying to get it," Hightower continued. "We've got Trent. Like I said, we've got Dante. We've got D.J. We've got Richie. We've got a lot of different guys in there, and the fun thing about this is one day one guy does a good job, and then then next day the other guy steps up and does a better job. Then another guy steps up and does a (good) job."

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