Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch spoke separately in February about the need for 49ers tight end George Kittle to find a way to remain healthy.
It’s a reasonable concern. After all, Kittle sustained a hamstring injury on the third day of training camp. He was treated for injuries to his hip, chest, elbow, back, leg and ankle during the season.
Through it all, Kittle missed just one game due to an ankle injury and came through with an impressive rookie season after being chosen in the fifth round of last year’s draft from Iowa.
Kittle ranked second in the NFL among rookies in receiving yards last season. His 43 catches for 515 yards were the most by any rookie NFL tight end drafted after the fourth round.
The future is bright. But – as Shanahan and Lynch were pick to point out at the NFL scouting combine – Kittle must find a way to avoid injuries. Kittle addressed his offseason training regimen during the 49ers Insider Podcast.
“I was banged up a little bit,” Kittle said. “I did a whole offseason of just preparing my body -- a lot of band work -- to get my body used to hard hits and stuff like that. I did as much stretching as I could because the more flexible you are, the less likely you are to pull something.”
Kittle said no player can ever eliminate the possibility of injuries, but he took steps he believes will give him a better chance to remain able to perform.
“I think you can protect against some injuries,” Kittle said. “You can’t protect against, you’re running an outside zone and a guy falls down behind you onto your ankle or something. You can’t control stuff like that.
“I think a lot of it is luck of the draw, in my opinion. But there are things you can do to help yourself. If a stiff guy gets hit from behind, his likelihood of getting hurt is probably higher than a guy who’s super-limber.”
As a tight end, Kittle has to balance building up the weight and strength required to block defensive ends, while also remaining light enough to run pass patterns against defensive backs.
Kittle is currently in the same situation as quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard, as each is going through his first full offseason program with the 49ers in Santa Clara.
“They’re both fantastic quarterbacks,” Kittle said.
Beathard, a college teammate of Kittle, started five games last season.
“He proved his toughness, taking hits, getting up, making plays,” Kittle said of Beathard.
In the final five games with Garoppolo at quarterback, Kittle caught 15 passes for 224 yards. He caught four passes for 100 yards in the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams to become the first 49ers rookie tight end since Monty Stickles in 1960 to have 100 yards receiving in a game.
Kittle praised Garoppolo for his leadership and his uncanny ability to locate the open man.
“It’s fun because you know you’re going to get the ball,” Kittle said. “He sees the whole field at all times.”