Last season, Kyle Shanahan utilized rookie wideout Deebo Samuel on multiple end-around handoffs, with some pretty productive results.
Samuel rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns in 2019, also garnering at least one carry in each of the 49ers’ three playoff games.
But with the young wide receiver sidelined to start the 2020 NFL season due to an offseason foot injury, Shanahan has had to get creative with his end-arounds. In Sunday’s Week 1 contest at Levi’s Stadium against the Arizona Cardinals, there was a new guy getting the handoff: tight end George Kittle. After seeing Kittle and the 49ers’ offense pick up nine yards and a first down in the red zone, Cardinals defensive lineman Chandler Jones appeared to question the origin of a rare run play designed for the tight end.
“Tight end-around, are you kidding me? What is this, Madden?” Jones appeared to ask Kittle after the play.
The 49ers weren’t able to capitalize that first-quarter drive with a touchdown following the Kittle conversion, as Arizona got a goal line stand on fourth down against Raheem Mostert.
Kittle was forced to leave the game near the end of the first half with left knee sprain, but did return after the intermission.
But the tight end wasn’t targeted once in the second half, finishing Sunday’s 24-20 loss with just four catches for 44 yards.
Shanahan likely has had that play cooked up for a long time, and decided to break it out near the opposing end zone.
Given the success with the play design, Sunday might not have been the final time we’ll see a Kittle-designed run dialed up by Shanahan, especially if Samuel remains out.