If there is one thing you should know about 49ers tight end George Kittle, it’s that nothing seems to impede his progress.

Whether it’s fractured ribs cartilage or a defender having a firm grasp of his face mask while others are jumping on his back, Kittle has proven to be a virtually unstoppable force.

Kittle has fashioned a different look in the 49ers’ Week 16 and 17 games, catching the attention of some viewers. But his production remained unchanged.

And that’s how this playoff bye-week edition of the 49ers Mailbag kicks off ...

Sure enough, Kittle was not wearing additional ribs protection in the 49ers’ Week 16 game against the Atlanta Falcons.

But he wore the extra padding in the 49ers’ regular-season games against the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks. The padding is very similar to what Kittle wore last season after he sustained fractured ribs cartilage in a Week 9 game against the Raiders.

Kittle wore the padding for the remainder of the season but did never talked about it.


Again, he is not talking about it. (But, also, I don’t know that any reporter has asked him about it.) He has not missed any practice time, according to the 49ers’ practice participation reports. He has not been listed with any kind of injury requiring medical attention.

Of course, Kittle set the all-time, single-season record for tight ends last season with 1,377 receiving yards. The ribs' condition did not impact his performance. And it has not slowed him down the past two games, either.

It is my understanding the 49ers will wear their traditional home reds for as long as they remain alive on the NFC side of the NFL’s postseason bracket. But that does not necessarily mean we have seen the last of their alternate, all-white uniforms.

The AFC champion will be the home team in the Super Bowl, and the representative from that conference will have their choice of jersey.

Each of the six teams from the AFC wears their dark jerseys at home. Therefore, it is expected that the team representing the NFC must wear their white uniforms. Teams are allowed to wear alternate jerseys up to three times a season. The 49ers did it against Carolina at home and in Week 17 at Seattle.

I’m not 100-percent sure that it would be allowed for the Super Bowl, but if the 49ers advance that far, it is a possibility the 49ers could pull out the all-whites one more time.

The 49ers signed veteran nose tackle Earl Mitchell this week to provide depth on the defensive line. General manager John Lynch reached out to him a week earlier to begin the process that led to the reunion.

Mitchell appears to be in OK shape. He is certainly not in “football shape,” but the 49ers are not expecting him to step in and play a whole lot. My best guess is that he is on the field for approximately 15 plays in the 49ers’ playoff opener on Saturday, Jan. 11.

Robert Saleh is reportedly interviewing with the Cleveland Browns on Saturday. Up to this point, he is the only defensive coach to receive an interview with Browns. He went in with a plan for putting together his offensive staff.

It seems logical that he would want to bring some of the 49ers’ coaches with him to fill more-prominent roles. But any assistant coach who remains under contract to the 49ers through 2020 would have to be let out of his contract.


A year ago, Kyle Shanahan declined permission to Green Bay and Arizona to hire Mike LaFleur and Mike McDaniel. LaFleur is the 49ers’ passing-game coordinator, while McDaniel is the run-game coordinator. Shanahan said neither young coach would have received a promotion. At Green Bay and Arizona, they were still going to be non-play-calling coordinators.

Shanahan does not want to lose good coaches, but he also does not want to stand in the way of career advancement for anyone on his staff. His first priority is to surround himself with the best people for the 49ers.

When the season started, Dre Greenlaw was the starting strong-side linebacker, with Kwon Alexander starting on the weak side and Fred Warner playing in the middle.

So when Alexander comes back, Greenlaw will still be a starter. But, here’s the difference: Greenlaw would be on the field for only on base downs. When the 49ers shift to five defensive backs, K’Waun Williams enters the game at nickel back and the strong-side linebacker goes to the sideline.

If you consider Top Five “elite,” then elite they are.

The 49ers ranked second in the NFL in points per game (29.9) and No. 4 in total yards. I’m not sure I would consider the 49ers’ offense on the same level as some other teams, but maybe I should.

At first thought, I just don’t think the 49ers have the kind of game-breaking offensive players that you associate with elite offenses. But there’s not a whole lot wrong with Jimmy Garoppolo throwing or handing off to Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel and Raheem Mostert.

Kittle deserves to be paid more than just the top five. He deserves to be No. 1 and reset the tight end market. The sooner they can do that, the more it benefits both sides.


There just are not enough touches for four running backs. Really, there are not enough opportunities through the course of a game to satisfy three running backs. That’s why Jeff Wilson has not been active. He did a good job in short-yardage situations, and he might be the best route-runner among the team’s backs. But, right now, there is no room for him to breakthrough in a backfield that consists of Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida. The 49ers need their game-day depth in other spots.


I see what you did there. . . .

All things being equal, I think the 49ers would be wise to continue to invest in their defensive line. That is the one position where you can never – NEVER – have too many good players.

If everyone on injured reserve were healthy, the 49ers’ offense would look a lot different right now.

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Slot receiver Trent Taylor would be their best third-down receiver. Jalen Hurd would be on the field in two-minute and no-huddle situations to create all kinds of issues for defenses as they determine whether to go with base personnel or nickel packages. And Jerick McKinnon would be the team’s third-down back because he is much better route-runner than any of the team’s other running backs.

Taylor and Hurd, if healthy, will be back in 2020. It is possible the 49ers will try to bring back McKinnon on a low-level, one-year, prove-it contract. But Verrett signed a one-year deal, and it seems like a stretch that the club would be inclined to re-sign him.