Dante Pettis said he wasn’t “delusional.” He could look at the names on the backs of the jersey of the other receivers on the roster for the New York Giants at the beginning of the season and understand why he was on the practice squad.
Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton were established. Kadarius Toney was a first-round pick. C.J. Board was a key special teams player. Collin Johnson flashed potential last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and at 6-foot-6, 222 pounds had attractive size the Giants thought they could take advantage of. That doesn’t even account for John Ross, who began the season on IR with a hamstring injury.
So Pettis, a former second-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers who is in his fourth season, landed on the practice squad.
“It’s been hard I guess you could say only because if you’re a real competitor, you’re a football player, you want to play in the games,” Pettis told Big Blue View on Thursday.
“I was still doing everything I could to help the team, but if you are really playing football you want to get on the field. But I knew the situation, I knew what it was, there’s a lot of guys that are playing really well in training camp and then they started off the season hot, too, so it wasn’t like I was delusional. I knew kind of how things went, but yeah, I’m sure every practice squad player is a little pissed off, wants to get on the field. You gotta have that to just keep you going.”
The Giants are now ravaged by injuries at wide receiver. Golladay is out with a knee injury. Toney will miss Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. Board is out for the year after breaking his arm. Slayton has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury. Slayton, Shepard and Ross are all questionable this week due to hamstring issues.
Now, the Giants need the 26-year-old Pettis. They added him to the 53-man roster before last week’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, and when Toney went down before the first offensive series concluded, Pettis stepped up. He caught five passes in 11 targets for 48 yards while playing 46 snaps (61 percent of the offensive plays).
Wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said he was “not one bit” surprised by Pettis’s production.
“Every time Dante gets an opportunity to do something he does it in a positive way,” Tolbert said. “Doesn’t surprise me one bit when Dante gets in the game and he’s productive.”
Last week was Pettis’ first on the active roster this season. Quarterback Daniel Jones, working his way through the concussion protocol, only practiced fully on Friday. So, how much work had Pettis done with Jones prior to Sunday’s game?
“I always like to after practice see if he has any routes that he needs to throw or something, especially when I was on practice squad because I knew I wasn’t getting those reps and I knew if he needed to throw something a lot of times the guys that were active they had already done their work during practice, so that was really a time for me to go out there and get a little bit of chemistry built with him,” Pettis said.
“There was things I needed to clean up. We got on the same page about some stuff. Eleven targets I would love to have 11 catches, but that’s not how it goes all the time. At the end of the day the more we get together throwing and stuff I think things will get a little more clean.”
What about the return game?
Pettis was, of course, an outstanding punt returner in college, setting an NCAA record with nine returns for touchdowns. That has not translated in the NFL. He has returned only 11 punts since being drafted by the 49ers for a puny 3.7-yard average. He did not return kickoffs in college, and has only one 18-yard NFL kickoff return.
He might get opportunities as a return man Sunday vs. the Carolina Panthers.
Board, the Giants’ primary return man this season, is out for the year. Toney is out. Ross had opportunities in training camp, but his hamstring issues seem to have removed him from the kickoff return mix. Darnay Holmes, who had not returned kickoffs regularly since 2017, was forced into action in that role last Sunday. The only other return man the Giants have is Jabrill Peppers.
“I like making plays. Any time you get the ball in your hands it’s another opportunity to make a play,” Pettis said.
“That’s up to T-Mac [special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey], Coach Judge. I’m not turning it down. I would love to do it, but at the end of the day it is their thing. I’ll go back there, I’ll catch all the punts that I need to whenever we’re in practice. When my number’s called in the game, if it is called, I’ll be ready. If not I understand.”
Pettis explained the difference, from his perspective, between returning punts and kickoffs.
“It’s a lot different. A lot of people have a preference one or the other. They say ‘oh, punt’s scarier’ or you gotta be crazy to go back there. Some people say they don’t like kickoff return, but they have different aspects,” Pettis said.
“Punt, you’ve gotta catch the ball, people are running down on you, but then after that you can kind of find your blocks. Where, kickoff its’ easier to catch it but then finding the hole I feel like seems a little more challenging. It’s really whichever one you want to pick, but you’ve gotta be kind of crazy to do either one.”
Crazy or not, Pettis will take any chance he can get to have the ball in his hands. When he gets them, the Giants need him to produce.