49ers’ Kit­tle re­turns to prac­tice

Coach Shana­han not con­cerned about TE

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Cam In­man

SANTA CLARA >> Nei­ther an­kle sore­ness nor cold rain kept Ge­orge Kit­tle out of the 49ers’ prac­tice Thurs­day.

Held out of Wed­nes­day’s prac­tice, Kit­tle did not ap­pear too la­bored a day later, but he also didn’t ex­actly look pain free dur­ing the warmups.

“I feel fab­u­lous, thanks for ask­ing,” Kit­tle said as he opened his post­prac­tice press con­fer­ence.

Coach Kyle Shana­han did not ex­press con­cern and fully ex­pects Kit­tle to play Sun­day as the 49ers (14-3) host the Green Bay Pack­ers (14-3) for the NFC cham­pi­onship.

Jimmy Garop­polo had a clue

when he ar­rived to work Thurs­day that Kit­tle, ever the prankster, was feel­ing like him­self. In­side Garop­polo’s locker was a T-shirt dis­play­ing Kit­tle’s smil­ing mug.

A full par­tic­i­pant in Thurs­day’s rain-short­ened prac­tice, Kit­tle was smil­ing af­ter­ward, de­spite the chilly and wet weather, in the un­usual sit­u­a­tion of a mid-Jan­uary prac­tice by the 49ers. “Def­i­nitely don’t ex­pect that in Cal­i­for­nia — it was cold and rainy, but it was fun,” Kit­tle said. “We made the most of it, and we had an ef­fi­cient prac­tice.”

Al­though the 49ers con­sid­ered mov­ing Thurs­day’s prac­tice to a nearby in­door fa­cil­ity, they prac­ticed amid heavy rain and 45-de­gree weather. Eight years ago, rain was set to fall on the 49ers’ Thurs­day prac­tice be­fore they hosted the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game, and then-coach Jim Har­baugh em­braced the el­e­ments.

“I an­tic­i­pate that we’ll have some pre­cip­i­ta­tion to­day, some weather, and that will be a great thing for us,” Har­baugh said then. “Ad­mi­ral Bull Halsey (or Carl Nimitz) once said, ‘If you’re go­ing to fight in the North At­lantic, then you got to pre­pare in the North At­lantic.’”

Those 2011 49ers lost 2017 in over­time and in the rain at Can­dle­stick Park to the New York Gi­ants, the even­tual Su­per Bowl cham­pion. Sun­day’s fore­cast for Levi’s Sta­dium calls for no rain but cloudy skies and a high of 62 and a low of 48.

• Gen­eral man­ager John Lynch won the Pro Foot­ball Writ­ers of Amer­ica Ex­ec­u­tive of the Year award. Lynch was hon­ored for his role in help­ing trans­form the 49ers from a four-win sea­son in 2018 to a 13-3 record this past sea­son. The 49ers were 6-10 and 4-12 be­fore go­ing 13-3 this sea­son. The 49ers were seeded first in the NFC for the first time since 1997 and be­came just the third team since the 12-team play­off for­mat was in­sti­tuted in 1990 to go from four or fewer wins to a No. 1 seed the fol­low­ing year.

The Ravens’ John Har­baugh was named Coach of the Year, while Ravens’ of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Greg Ro­man was named As­sis­tant Coach of the Year.

• Sec­ond-year line­backer Fred Warner was among those stunned by this week’s re­tire­ment of Pan­thers line­backer Luke Kuechly.

“Luke’s one of the best to ever do it. It’s a pretty big shock to me. It’s a guy I stud­ied closely. My hat’s off to him.”

Warner has led the 49ers in tack­les each of his two sea­sons. How long does he en­vi­sion his ca­reer, con­sid­er­ing that Kuechly re­tired af­ter eight sea­sons like former 49ers star Pa­trick Wil­lis did in 2015?

“When you’re young you think you’ll play for­ever. The dream is to play in the NFL and think you’ll play 20 years,” Warner said. “But when you’re in it, it’s a vi­o­lent game at the end of the day, and your body takes a toll.

“I try to take it one day at a time and try not to think too far ahead, be­cause your ca­reer could be over in a man­ner of sec­onds.”

One of Warner’s best games as a pro came in the Oct. 24 win over the Pack­ers. He had 11 solo tack­les, and his first-se­ries strip­sack of Aaron Rodgers cre­ated a fum­ble that the 49ers

cashed in for a touch­down to spark the 37-8 rout.

• Over 30 me­dia mem­bers hud­dled in front of Garop­polo’s locker af­ter prac­tice for a rare, non-podium in­ter­view, and the last time any­one at­tracted a scene like that in there was Colin Kaeper­nick dur­ing his 2016 fi­nal sea­son. Asked how he felt about that spot­light, Garop­polo said: “It’s part of the gig, comes with the job, I guess.”

He’s done his job so well on the field that the 49ers are in their first NFC Cham­pi­onship Game since the 2013 sea­son, when Kaeper­nick made his sec­ond straight start in one.

Garop­polo said of this sea­son: “It’s crazy to look back on it. Watch­ing tape and things like that and see clips from Oc­to­ber and it seems like a life­time ago. It’s been a whirl­wind of a sea­son, es­pe­cially per­son­ally to come back from the ACL and ev­ery­thing. It’s a great group to go to bat­tle with and I wouldn’t ask for any­one else.”

• Whether Em­manuel Mose­ley has sup­planted Ahkello Wither­spoon as the start­ing right cor­ner­back, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Robert Saleh is keep­ing mum and paint­ing it as an on­go­ing bat­tle. Said Saleh: “We’re look­ing at ev­ery­thing, let­ting them go through the week and com­pet­ing. As we get closer we’ll have a de­ci­sion.”

• De­fen­sive end Dee Ford (ham­string, quadri­ceps) also re­turned to prac­tice af­ter skip­ping Wed­nes­day’s ses­sion to work on lim­ited drills. Ford was lim­ited, as was line­backer Kwon Alexan­der (pec­toral). Run­ning backs Tevin Cole­man (el­bow) and Ra­heem Mostert (calf) were to par­tic­i­pate fully in prac­tice.

Kit­tle

JEFF CHIU — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

San Fran­cisco 49ers tight end Ge­orge Kit­tle smiles dur­ing a prac­tice at the team’s train­ing fa­cil­ity in Santa Clara on Thurs­day. The 49ers are sched­uled to host the Green Bay Pack­ers in the NFC Cham­pi­onship game on Sun­day.

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