49ers’ Kittle returns to practice
Coach Shanahan not concerned about TE
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.
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.