Kit­tle takes great joy in run block­ing

Antelope Valley Press - - NUMBERS GAME - By JOSH DUBOW

SANTA CLARA — No tight end in NFL his­tory has been as pro­duc­tive as Ge­orge Kit­tle at catch­ing the ball over the first three years of a ca­reer.

A player that skilled as a re­ceiver might be ex­pected to ask, or even de­mand, for the ball to come his way plenty of times on of­fense.

But in­stead of spend­ing his time telling his coaches on the San Fran­cisco 49ers or quar­ter­back Jimmy Garop­polo how open he is, Kit­tle has other play-call­ing re­quests in­stead.

“Every­one knows what he’s done in the pass game, but he has never once in three years came up to me dur­ing a game and said, ‘Hey I need this route.’ Or, ‘Hey we’ve got to do this,’” coach Kyle Shana­han said. “He’s never once came up to me about a pass play, but he comes up to me about ev­ery seven plays about what type of run play we need to do, who we need to al­low him to hit, things like that. It makes it very fun to call plays for him.”

For as ac­com­plished a re­ceiver as Kit­tle may be with his 197 catches and 2,664 yards re­ceiv­ing rank­ing as the most ever by a tight end through three sea­sons, it’s his abil­ity as a run blocker that truly sets him apart from some of the other top tight ends in the league who do most of their work in the pass­ing game.

That skill was on dis­play last week when Kit­tle’s block­ing helped the Nin­ers (14-3) gen­er­ate a fran­chise-play­off record 47 car­ries for 186 yards in a 27-10 vic­tory over Min­nesota.

Right tackle Mike McGlinchey said Kit­tle has the men­tal­ity of an of­fen­sive line­man and is one of the key com­po­nents of the run­ning game.

“That’s what’s re­ally cool about Ge­orge and the best part about him,” McGlinchey said. “He takes more pride in how he’s do­ing in the run game than he does in the pass game even though he’s the best at both.”

The 49ers’ run­ning game looks com­pletely dif­fer­ent when Kit­tle is healthy and is able to seal the edge with his blocks that help fuel the out­side zone run­ning game. San Fran­cisco av­er­aged only 2.9 yards per carry in three games when Kit­tle was ei­ther side­lined or se­verely lim­ited by in­juries to his knee and an­kle. That com­pares to a 4.8 yard av­er­age in the other games.

So that shows the kind of im­pact he can make even when he’s not pro­duc­ing in the pass­ing game.

He had only three catches for 16 yards for his fewest yards in a game since his rookie year in 2017 in the play­off opener against the Vik­ings but that didn’t bother him at all.

“I take pride in my run game,” Kit­tle said. “That’s how I grade my­self in games. Pass­ing yards and re­ceiv­ing yards take care of them­selves. I take pride in it.”

Per­haps that’s to be ex­pected from a player who caught only 48 passes in 25 col­lege games at Iowa, as he fell to the fifth round of the draft.

The Nin­ers be­lieved in his ath­leti­cism and po­ten­tial and were sur­prised he lasted be­yond the third round. But they were very for­tu­nate he was there at 146th over­all as the ninth tight end se­lected in that draft.

Associated Press

BLOCKER San Fran­cisco 49ers tight end Ge­orge Kit­tle (85) runs as Min­nesota Vik­ings line­backer Eric Wil­son (50) at­tempts a tackle dur­ing an NFL di­vi­sional play­off game on Satur­day in Santa Clara.

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