49ers' George Kittle to spend time in the offseason with Tony Gonzalez


49ers' George Kittle to spend time in the offseason with Tony Gonzalez

It is only going to get more difficult for George Kittle, who set the all-time NFL single-season record for tight ends with 1,377 receiving yards this season.

Kittle is likely to be the focus of every opponent that faces the 49ers next season. And with that in mind, 49ers assistant head coach/tight ends Jon Embree has lined up a special week in Los Angeles for Kittle to help him cope with the new challenge.

Kittle and Embree will meet up with Tony Gonzalez, one of the all-time great tight ends, in February or March, Embree said on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

Embree said he believes Kittle can gain a lot from the experience of talking ball with Gonzalez, who is likely to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend in Atlanta.

“One of the things with George is, it’s easier to be the hunter than the hunted, so to speak,” Embree said. “So now that he’s had this success, my thing with him is, 'How do you sustain it?' And how hard it’s going to be to sustain that success.

“Now, when you walk into a game, everybody is going to know where 85 is on every play. Everybody is going to (say), defensively, ‘Get your hands on 85. Get your hands on 85.’ ‘Re-route.’ ‘Jam.’ All those different things that he’s going to have to face now, that maybe he didn’t face the entire year last year.”

There are few individuals on the planet who can relate more to the challenge of being a marked man than Gonzalez, who made 14 Pro Bowls in his 17 NFL seasons and ranks behind only Jerry Rice with 1,325 career receptions.

“I just want him to understand about how he needs to work, how he needs to continue to prepare,” Embree said of Kittle. “How do you handle certain things so when those things arise he’s not sitting there trying to figure out something? I can say, ‘Hey, remember when 88 told you this.’ ‘Hey, now, 88 told you about this; this is what we got to do.’ Don’t be frustrated, because those situations are going to arise next year for him.”

Embree and Gonzalez built a lasting bond during the three seasons Embree coached tight ends with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2006 to ’09. Embree said he will go to dinner with Gonzalez and Kittle. Then, those two will work together on the field. NFL rules do not allow Embree to step on the field with Kittle before the start of the team’s offseason program in April.

“Tony knows how I work and things I want done, so Tony is going to work with him on some of those things and teach him some of the little tricks and nuances that he’s done over his career,” Embree said.

Kittle had an encouraging rookie season in 2017, catching 43 passes for 515 yards. However, he started just seven of the 15 games in which he appeared as he battled an array of injuries. This year, Kittle remained healthy, started all 16 games and caught 88 passes for 1,377 yards.

“He was a big body catch, letting the ball get on his body,” Embree said. “My thing is, if you’re 6-5 and you have the length you have, you got to use it. My expression is about playing big. So I want you to catch the ball outside your frame. Reach out and catch the ball. Use your length. You could tell he worked on that. He did a good job of plucking the ball. He did a good job of being in traffic and using his length.”

Kittle was even more impressive after getting the ball in his hands. He had 873 yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus, which is the most for any player at any position since PFF began keeping statistics in 2006.

“The mindset in our room is, ‘Make them tackle you,’” Embree said. “The rule says they have to tackle you, but you don’t have to let them tackle you.”

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Embree said once a player, such as Kittle with his size and speed, drops his shoulder and runs over a player in the secondary, it changes how defensive backs approach him for the remainder of the game.

“They’re going to make a business decision. And that business decision is, ‘I don’t want to get hurt’ or ‘I don’t want to look bad,’” Embree said. “So they’re going to let you go a little bit and tackle you from behind. He has such good speed, if they try to make that business decision, it ends up being an explosive (play) for a touchdown.”

49ers injury report: Game-time decision if Dee Ford will play vs. Steelers


49ers injury report: Game-time decision if Dee Ford will play vs. Steelers

Defensive end Dee Ford is feeling better after sitting out the second half of the 49ers’ game last week against the Cincinnati Bengals with discomfort in his knee and quadriceps, coach Kyle Shanahan said.

“Hopefully, he’ll be feeling good on Sunday,” Shanahan said. “He said he felt good. He looked good walking through. But I know that’ll go all the way up to Sunday.”

Ford, who is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, sat out practices Wednesday and Thursday. He was scheduled to take part in limited practice on Friday, but the 49ers dialed back their planned practice to a walk-through at their Santa Clara facility because of the high intensity of the practices earlier in the week.

“I know he’s feeling better now than he has the last few days, but he’s still not fully there, yet,” Shanahan said of Ford. “We’ll see how these last 48 hours go. Hopefully, they go well. If it does, I know he feels confident to go out there, especially with time off the following week.”

The 49ers face the Steelers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. After the game, the club will have a bye week before returning to action on Monday, Oct. 7, against the Cleveland Browns.

Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa (ankle), and safeties Jaquiski Tartt (toe) and Jimmie Ward (hand) are also listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Bosa and Tartt are expected to play, while Ward is likely to miss his third consecutive game to open the season.

Shanahan said he expects rookie wide receiver Jalen Hurd to be available after the bye week. Hurd has sat out five weeks with a back condition.

“He’s on track,” Shanahan said of Hurd. “We’ll see how it is once we get back from the bye week. I know he has a lot of work to do when we all get away from here a little bit for the four days. It’ll be big the work he puts in when we’re away. We expect him to be ready when we get back.”

The 49ers will not have the services of wide receiver Trent Taylor for at least eight weeks after he underwent surgery to repair a Jones fracture on his right foot. The bone has healed, Shanahan said, but there were issues with some of the soft tissue around the bone on the outside of his foot that has caused a flareup. Taylor is eligible to return to action on Nov. 17 against the Arizona Cardinals.

[RELATED: 49ers place Taylor on IR, re-sign Young]

The 49ers placed Taylor on injured reserve and signed veteran offensive tackle Sam Young. Shanahan said he does not think Young will be active and in uniform for Sunday’s game.

49ers injury report

RB Tevin Coleman (ankle)
WR Jalen Hurd (back)
OT Joe Staley (leg)
WR Trent Taylor (foot) – injured reserve

DE Dee Ford (quadriceps
S Jaquiski Tartt (toe)
DE Nick Bosa (ankle)
DB Jimmie Ward (hand)

Steelers injury report

FB Roosevelt Nix (knee)
LB Vince Williams (hamstring)
LB Anthony Chickillo (foot)

49ers place Trent Taylor on IR, re-sign veteran tackle Sam Young

49ers place Trent Taylor on IR, re-sign veteran tackle Sam Young

The 49ers on Friday signed veteran offensive tackle Sam Young to a one-year contract and placed wide receiver Trent Taylor on injured reserve.

Taylor, who underwent surgery Aug. 10 to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot, must sit out for at least eight weeks before he is eligible to return to the 49ers’ 53-man roster and appear in a game.

Originally, the 49ers placed Taylor's timetable to return at four to six weeks. As recently as last week, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said he hoped Taylor would be able to return to action after the 49ers' Week 4 bye.

Taylor was expected to be one of the team’s leading pass-catchers this season before he sustained the fracture to the fifth metatarsal on his right foot. Since the 49ers selected him in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, Taylor has appeared in 29 games and caught 69 passes for 645 yards and three touchdowns.

The 49ers re-signed Young, who was among their final cuts before the start of the regular season. The 49ers require more depth at offensive tackle after Joe Staley broke his left fibula, an injury that is expected to keep him sidelined for six to eight weeks.

Rookie Justin Skule is scheduled to start Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at left tackle.

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In his nine-year NFL career, Young has appeared in 88 games with 21 starts with Dallas, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Miami. Young will wear No. 65 for the 49ers.