Matt Maiocco

Remaining healthy and productive is a stretch for 49ers tight end Kittle

kittlegeorgewhiterams.jpg
AP

Remaining healthy and productive is a stretch for 49ers tight end Kittle

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.”

Garoppolo getting to know new 49ers teammates without coaches around

Garoppolo getting to know new 49ers teammates without coaches around

Although the first two weeks of the NFL offseason program are limited to strength and conditioning training, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has already gotten an opportunity to play with a couple of his new toys.

Garoppolo has taken part in throwing sessions during the week at the team’s facility, where coaches are not allowed on the field with the players until next week. On the weekends, he has organized additional activities with his teammates at a park in the South Bay.

“We had our first one this weekend,” Garoppolo said on Monday at Levi’s Stadium after another day of workouts. “It’s just something that I like to do. It kinds of gets us away from the coaches and everything, and allows me to talk to the receivers about specific things, or the tight ends or running backs.

“We try to get everyone out there that we can. I understand people have things that they have to get to. But we had a great showing this Saturday. It was good. Just to be on the same page with those guys, talking through route concepts and how they see it versus how I see it. It just gets us on the same page.”

Among the players who have taken part in the sessions are wide receiver Pierre Garçon and running back Jerick McKinnon, likely to be among the team’s top pass-catchers this season.

Garoppolo’s five starts with the 49ers came after Garçon was sidelined with a neck injury after eight games. Garçon was on pace for a 1,000-yard season before going on injured reserve. The 49ers targeted McKinnon as an upgrade over Carlos Hyde due to his playmaking ability, including catching passes out of the backfield.

McKinnon and center Weston Richburg were players the 49ers front office heavily pursued and signed on the first day of free agency. They were the first major pieces the 49ers added after signing Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million contract in February.

“Those are good guys,” Garoppolo said. “They fit what we’re trying to do here and they work hard, so when you bring that to the table, it’s always good.”

Garoppolo is continuing in his first offseason with the 49ers something he said he began during his days at Rolling Meadows High School in a northwest suburb of Chicago.

”It’s one of those things, when the coaches aren’t there you kind of see a different side of guys,” Garoppolo said. “They open up a little bit or tell you how they see a concept compared to how it is written in the book. Just a little bit at a time for us to talk through things, I guess.”

Four important questions about 49ers' first-round pick

nelson-quenton-notre-dame.jpg
AP

Four important questions about 49ers' first-round pick

The 49ers do not control their own draft destiny.

With the No. 9 overall pick, the 49ers’ selection will, in part, be based on what happens in the first eight draft slots. Of course, they could move up or back. But that would involve finding a trade partner.

The answers to these questions will shape the 49ers’ actions on Thursday in the first round of the NFL draft:

Will a linebacker be best on the board?
Reuben Foster’s time with the 49ers might not be over, but it is unclear how much time he is going to miss or how much the 49ers can rely on him to be a long-term member of the organization.

Roquan Smith (Georgia) and Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech) are considered the top two options at linebacker, and either one of them could be the best available player on the board when the 49ers select.

Smith is a high-character, instinctive, athletic player who can step in and immediately become the team’s leading tackler. Edmunds is big, young and raw. Smith is close to a sure thing. Edmunds’ upside is unlimited.

Could Chubb or Nelson be around?
The 49ers have struggled to find a pass rush since Aldon Smith’s departure. Bradley Chubb (North Carolina State) is the best edge rusher in the draft, and would be a nice fit for the 49ers’ scheme. But the 49ers should not hold their breath. Chubb and running back Saquon Barkley (Penn State) are expected be the first non-quarterbacks selected.

Although unlikely, it is possible guard Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame) could still be on the board when the 49ers select. The 49ers believe they have strengthened their guard positions – or at least strengthened the competition – with the signing of Jonathan Cooper. Laken Tomlinson and Joshua Garnett are slated to compete, along with Cooper, for the starting jobs.

Nelson is big and powerful. He is also athletic enough to fit into Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, which places a lot more responsibility on the shoulders of the guards that most systems. Nelson could be chosen at any of the three spots (Indianapolis, Tampa Bay or Chicago) before the 49ers are scheduled to go on the clock. If he remains there at No. 9, the guess is the 49ers would gladly call his name.

Who is the best fit in the secondary?
There are some very good defensive backs who will be drafted within the first dozen picks. But which of those players gives the 49ers what they need or want?

Cornerback Denzel Ward (Ohio State), and safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama) and Derwin James (Florida State) are the consensus top defensive backs available in this draft.

Ward’s speed and coverage skills are outstanding. But his size (5-11, 183) and non-physical style do not match what the 49ers want from their cornerbacks.

Fitzpatrick can play just about anywhere in the secondary. James is tough and aggressive. Strong safety is his best fit.

Fitzpatrick is good in the slot, where the 49ers already have K’Waun Williams at nickel back. At cornerback, the 49ers have presumptive starters Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon. Safety Jimmie Ward will play on the outside in the offseason program.

At safety, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are scheduled for unrestricted free agency next offseason, so the 49ers could look ahead to what might be a need a year from now. Adrian Colbert looks to be a keeper.

Will a surprise really be a surprise?
So who is the second-best pass rusher? Who is the second-best offensive lineman? And would the 49ers consider either of those players worthy of a top-10 selection?

The 49ers must look to address their looming issues at offensive tackle, and Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame) could be considered. Joe Staley might have a couple of good seasons left in him. But right tackle Trent Brown couild be gone after this season.

And how about the need for an edge rusher? It would not be much of a stretch for the 49ers to consider Marcus Davenport (Texas-San Antonio) or Harold Landry (Boston College).

Cornerback is also a position the 49ers could consider. Isaiah Oliver (Colorado) and Josh Jackson (Iowa) are the best fits for the 49ers’ scheme.

The 49ers were not willing to spend money for a wide receiver in free agency, so they can be expected to add someone in the draft. But a top-10 pick would seem too high to go target any of the top guys: Calvin Ridley (Alabama), D.J. Moore (Maryland) or Courtland Sutton (SMU).