SANTA CLARA — 49ers tight end George Kittle had a record-setting second season in 2018 but his position coach John Embree still thinks he has a long way to go before he reaches his ceiling.
Embree is obviously pleased with Kittle’s productivity last season but also sees where there is room to improve. The list of areas he's having Kittle focus on as he approaches his third season in the NFL is long.
“His footwork, getting in and out of breaks, certain routes that he really, in my mind, struggles getting in and out of his break to be clean with it,” Embree said. “His weight, he has a tendency to lean back a little bit so just working on those things in certain routes to help him try to continue to take the next step.
“He left a lot on the field between drops and he and Jimmy [Garoppolo] not connecting. So yeah, he can do a lot more. He could do a lot more and not have the same numbers too.”
Things may change for Kittle in 2019 with defenses focusing their schemes on the tight end. He could end up being used as a decoy, which is just fine with Embree, who knows that coach Kyle Shanahan will take every advantage he can find.
“Kyle is very good at creating mismatches,” Embree said. “He’s very good at making the call at the right time to exploit it. I’m sure he will do some things that will help George try to build on what he did last year.
“But also, if he’s going to get that kind of attention, then we can get George as a decoy and get other people open and when they get open that will loosen people up and keep them in one-on-one match ups.”
Embree has been coaching tight ends for over a decade and he’s worked with some of the best. He coached Tony Gonzalez when they were both in Kansas City so he understands the need to use his tight ends creatively.
"It’s going to be one of those things that will vary week to week,” Embree said. “And I know Kyle, I’ve been fortunate to have coached some good guys and I’ve seen lot of things that defenses try to do to take away tight ends. So I’ll have a little bit of an idea of ways we can help him.”
Embree also believes that while Kittle enjoyed the records he set, that’s not what is really important to the Iowa football alum or even Embree himself.
“I think that’s the thing that makes George unique is that he doesn’t really focus on numbers and records and all that, and that’s when it happens for you,” Embree said. “You just go out and play and you just got to do well and focus on the next play. So, I think with George he could have a better year than he had last year and I’m ok with that.”
Embree also believes that it doesn’t matter who sets records on the offense. They all support each other, and obviously winning games is more important.
“This is one of the most unique teams I’ve been on with the camaraderie between the tight ends, receivers and running backs,” Embree said. “It’s really a good group. A lot of it is because the guys are young and kind of all came in together and growing up together.
“It’s not like a 12-year vet and a third-year player and there’s not a lot in common. That’s kind of helped the process too. I feel like everyone really does pull for each other.”
Shanahan has repeatedly spoken about watching film on players when they don’t have the ball in their hands. Embree is the same and gave examples of why Kittle is so important to the offense.
[RELATED: Bowman left lasting impression on Kittle]
“Two of my favorite plays of his happened in the Green Bay game with George and they were both run plays,” Embree said. “You can see his passion and excitement for the game. And those are two plays he didn’t have the ball. With me, that lets me know I’m coaching the right kind of guy in that these number are great if they happen, but it won’t be the end of the world if they don’t, because he understands how he fits and what his job is and what he needs to do.
“He’s one of our best pass protectors. He does a great job in the run game and we lean on him a lot. That’s why I’m proud of him the most. I know he can get a lot better and when he gets that cleaned up, he can be a dominant player.”