Rookie WR Dante Pettis turning heads at 49ers training camp

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) The 49ers appear to have found a promising piece for second-year coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense if the first week of training camp is any indication.

Rookie Dante Pettis, a receiver drafted in the second round out of Washington, has been a quick study in Shanahan’s complex scheme. He’s also been a tough cover for opposing defensive backs, evident by his string of catches against the starting defense in full-team drills.

In fact, Pettis closed Wednesday’s practice by catching a 45-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Garoppolo, speeding by promising second-year player Ahkello Witherspoon, after earlier beating All-Pro Richard Sherman for a catch on a crossing route.

Pettis’ ability to get open against physical NFL cornerbacks was a question mark after he was drafted. But Shanahan made a sizable bet that Pettis could do it given his work as a punt returner. Pettis set the NCAA record with nine punt return touchdowns during his four college seasons. He has been difficult to jam at the line of scrimmage in the early going.

”If you can make guys miss with your feet when you have the ball in your hand, you should be able to do it in routes, too,” Shanahan said. ”To combine that with his speed and his hands and his intelligence, which he is very smart, you feel pretty confident that he’s going to continue to get better.”

The 49ers traded up 15 spots in the second round to draft Pettis to add to a receiving corps headlined by dependable veteran Pierre Garcon and speedster Marquise Goodwin, who has also looked good during recent practices.

Shanahan is hoping the offense can continue to progress after ranking third in yardage (410) and fifth in points per game (28.8) during the five-game winning streak with Garoppolo as a starter to end 2017.

While Goodwin, a former Olympic long jumper, has textbook sprinting form, Pettis has anything but. He has long limbs and an awkward running style. But he still finds ways to move efficiently and get separation from defenders. He first figured out he had unique movement skills in the seventh grade.

”I would watch film of me running and I was like, `Why do I run so different than everybody else?’ I didn’t really get it and then I was just like `All right, that’s just how I run’ and kind of accepted it,” said Pettis.

Recent 49ers first-round draft picks have been bitten by the injury bug. Guard Joshua Garnett hasn’t practiced since banging knees with a teammate Saturday and is listed as day to day.

Jimmie Ward has been sidelined since midway through Tuesday’s practice with a hamstring injury, though he could return as soon as Friday. Defensive lineman Arik Armstead is also dealing with a hamstring issue and has been listed as week-to-week.

Ward and Armstead are expected to have significant roles for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who indicated he’s not overly concerned about their absences from camp. But given NFL teams are allowed just 14 padded practices during the regular season, they are missing opportunities to hone their crafts.

”Anyone who’s missing reps right now is missing valuable time,” said Saleh. ”If you’re not getting your practice reps, someone’s going to pass you up. But, at the same time, those guys are doing a great job in walk through and meetings and making sure they’re getting all of their mental reps so that when they do come back, they won’t skip a beat.”

NOTES: TE Cole Wick suffered a knee injury during team drills Thursday and was scheduled for further testing, the team said. … LB Brock Coyle (hip) is expected to work back into practice next week, as will offensive lineman JP Flynn (knee) . LT Joe Staley, WR Pierre Garcon, CB Richard Sherman, RB Jerick McKinnon, DT Earl Mitchell, DT DeForest Buckner and LB Malcolm Smith were given Thursday off.

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