Joe Staley might not have visited 49ers headquarters lately but he still has an influence on the team.
After the 49ers’ blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, a somber George Kittle spoke about not only wanting to play better but also needing to be a better team captain. On Thursday, Kittle revealed that he spoke to the now-retired Pro Bowl left tackle to get his advice.
“My rookie year, I was terrified of Joe Staley,” Kittle said. “He would come in and he’d be kind of a prick sometimes. I wouldn’t really understand that, and then there are times you’d see him and he’d be the happiest guy ever and you’re like ‘What’s wrong with him?’ ”
Kittle clearly has moved past being intimidated by the veteran lineman and the two have remained friends. The All-Pro tight end has learned from Staley that being a captain takes even more than leading by example.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the QB, it doesn’t matter if you’re DeForest Buckner, it doesn’t matter if you’re Arik Armstead it doesn’t matter if you’re George Kittle,” Kittle said. “Joe would hold you accountable and he’d make sure you heard his point and what he thought was required of you on a daily basis.
“I talked to him after the last game and that’s one thing he told me," Kittle said. " ‘Look, you have to hold people accountable and you have to tell them that you hold them to the highest standard because that’s what we’ve done for the last three years.' ”
The 49ers not only lost Staley’s play on the the field, but they are missing his leadership in the locker room, which from Kittle’s perspective, included some tough love moments. Kittle added that the team has been without the presence of Richard Sherman, who has been out with a calf injury. Both veterans held their teammates to a high level of performance on the field.
"I’m not saying we’re lacking in that at all," Kittle said. "I’m just saying we are trying to find our footing as a team, as captains too. When you lose Joe Staley, and Sherm hasn’t been here really. When you lose two guys who you look up to, it is hard."
Kittle is known for his effervescent and positive attitude which will likely never disappear but the challenge for the four-year vet might be to have those tough moments with players, and maybe terrify a few.