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The Giants need help scoring, but who says it has to come from the offense?
Former second-round draft pick Dante Pettis made his Giants’ debut last week with 29 snaps at wide receiver, but he wasn’t used on special teams. It’s a curious decision given Pettis’ background as the NCAA career leader with nine punt return touchdowns, Dion Lewis’ fumbling issues as a kickoff returner and the double-duty heavy workload carried by safety/punter returner Jabrill Peppers.
Released by the San Francisco 49ers and claimed by the Giants off waivers on Nov. 4, Pettis admitted it was a challenge to learn a new offense on the fly. The adjustment was amplified because of a bout with COVID-19.
“It almost felt like I was learning a new language for the first couple days,” Pettis said. “I had no idea what certain words meant. But everybody was very helpful with trying to get me up to speed.”
The Giants average the second-fewest points per game (17.1) in the NFL and have two defensive touchdowns. A special teams spark Sunday would go a long way toward keeping pace in a must-win game with the high-octane Dallas Cowboys.
“Return is simpler, I think,” Pettis said. “There are going to be things that are specific to what certain coaches like, whether it’s catching the ball a certain way or they like certain returns. But for the most part, punt returning especially, it’s mostly like you catch the ball and find space based on the return.”
Lewis is averaging 22.6 yards per kickoff return but has fumbled in two of the last three games and hasn’t shown big-play ability, with few exceptions. It seems like a natural place to try Pettis — except he fumbled his only kickoff return since high school when given a shot by the 49ers this season.
“I have no problems with it,” Pettis said. “It was just something that they felt like they had other people or something.”
Pettis made two catches against the Baltimore Ravens and will be the No. 3 receiver if Golden Tate (calf, doubtful) does not play. It’s a long way from where he was during two quarantines — one mandated when he switched teams and another after his positive test.
“The first quarantine wasn’t too bad. It was like six days, and I still could do push-ups in my room,” Pettis said. “But then the second one when I actually got COVID was a little rougher because I wasn’t supposed to work out or anything. After about six days, I started to feel better so I could walk around. But I lost probably eight pounds. When I came back, it was just that my body was a little weaker. It took a while to kind of get back up to speed after that. I feel perfectly fine now.”
Giants coach Joe Judge — a former special teams coordinator — believes in building depth at returner but has not given the go-ahead for Pettis in games. So, his best chance to flash game-breaking speed remains on a catch-and-run.
“His involvement in the offense is growing with his knowledge of the schemes and the system — and that’s been big,” Judge said. “Obviously, he has some athletic ability. He’s shown he can get open, beat man coverage, find some holes in zones.”
In addition to Tate, FB Eli Penny (illness) is out and LB Cam Brown (illness) is questionable. None of the three practiced Friday. WR Sterling Shepard, TE Evan Engram and Peppers all were limited in practice but are expected to play.
“Golden has been encouraging,” Judge said before practice. “The way he was able to go out there Wednesday was further ahead than we thought it would be. A lot of that is just him being a tough guy and really competing. That being said, toughness can’t get you over every injury.”
OLB Kyler Fackrell is expected to be activated off injured reserve Saturday, giving a boost to the decimated edge rush. Fackrell had an interception returned for a touchdown against the Cowboys in Week 5.
The Giants will need to clear a roster spot. Putting Tate on IR seems like an easy fix but would knock him out for two potential playoff games if the Giants sneak in.