Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images
Few things could be as demoralizing for a player than sitting on the sidelines in the Super Bowl. Not just sitting on the sidelines but knowing, even if there is an injury, you’re out. That was Dante Pettis’ reality last February. He was relegated to a spectator, watching his teammates charge towards a victory, then fall apart at the seams in what should have been the defining moment of his career.
That moment, Pettis said Friday, was the “final straw” in him stridently pursuing an offseason program of realizing his potential.
His roughly 13-minute press conference was not antagonistic nor defensive. He declined to use an encouraging start to training camp as cause to bash the media or other critics for criticizing him last season. Instead, it was a rare, astoundingly honest few minutes in which Pettis took responsibility for his performances, mental holdups and a brief background into how he overcame a nightmare personal season.
“If that doesn’t change the way someone approaches the offseason, they don’t really want to be in the NFL,” Pettis said. “There’s not too many things worse than that football-wise that could get you going, I think being inactive for the Super Bowl. That was kind of the final straw, I guess, you could say, but especially heading into the offseason. There’s not much more than that that could get someone going.”
Pettis declined to say exactly what went into his offseason, but that he’d expand at a later date. He did say he worked with a personal trainer in Santa Barbara for the summer.
For him, the isolation and quarantine necessitated by COVID-19 was actually a blessing. Through a process of focusing on himself and being conscious about training, Pettis said he allowed himself to “be who I know I can be.” That isolation gave him the chance, as he put it, “to go one-on-one with myself.”
As far as what that process actually rendered, it’s much of what you’d expect. Jimmy Garoppolo praised Pettis earlier this week for his “physicality” and “competitiveness,” the two semi-intangible areas where Pettis was clearly behind the curve.
Through that individualized offseason program, Pettis said that he feels “stronger” and is “a little bit bigger.”
The main difference from this offseason to the one prior was that it was “more purposeful.” Each rep was taken, he said, with a reason behind it, rather than just working out to work out, something he said made a marked difference.
If you’re skeptical that Pettis, whose early practice showings thus far have been encouraging, is a much-improved player, he’s not going to be offended. He harbored no ill will towards his critics, taking aim, instead, at himself.
“I’m sure they had a reason to say it,” Pettis said. “I didn’t play how I should have been playing, how I know I can play, and how they know I can play, so it was probably warranted.”
In his work over the summer, he said he and his trainer focused in great part on the mental side of football, pushing through both pain and self-doubt. His honesty and self-critiquing extended to the most crucial relationship Pettis has on the 49ers: that with head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Shanahan has long taken the stance with Pettis of the dad who’s pushing his kid, often saying, “I know what Dante’s capable of,” in his open critiques. He had hoped, last season, that those would serve as motivation for Pettis.
Pettis said he took them personally, but realized what Shanahan’s intention was. In a conversation at the start of camp, that relationship realigned itself.
“I took his coaching the wrong way and made it more personal and about me than about me like realizing how good he knows I can be,” Pettis said. “And I got caught up in the way he said some things and not the actual message that he was trying to get to me. Once I realized that, everything kind of changed and I think our relationship is really good. It’s open, and we can communicate. When I came back, we had a good talk… we have a really good relationship now.”
With those aforementioned receivers out and Pettis showing that he’s rediscovering the player the 49ers once thought he could be, there’s every reason to believe he’ll make the roster, and with Samuel potentially out in Week 1, that he’ll start at the Z (flanker) spot.
For the moment, though, Pettis said he doesn’t have any tangible goals for the season, just one, of the ethereal variety.
“To play free,” Pettis said. “Without anything holding me back.”