SANTA CLARA -- Like a shark smelling blood, it takes George Kittle a few reps to get a sense of where to go, and once he does, he attacks his run blocking assignment with no holds barred.
It wouldn’t be surprising to hear a playmaker who leads the team in receiving yards has gone up to his head coach asking for a play to go to him. Kittle is different. Once he gets a sense of if he can dominate a defender in the run game, that’s what he demands from his coach.
“The run plays he suggests are kind of half-thoughts,” Shanahan said. “They are more to how he can hit someone. ‘Let me go get this guy’ and then I got to go figure out what run play allows him to do that. He knows his run spot and you got to think of how to tie that into all 11.”
When asked how he determines who the victim is on the other side, Kittle was straight to the point.
“The weak link,” Kittle told NBC Sports Bay Area. “I mean I’d much rather run against, if they are going to put backups in behind their All-Pro players then I’ll run at those guys all day.
“That’s just always my mindset on it. If you attack the weakest link and they can’t hold up, then the whole defense falls apart. That’s just always been my philosophy with it.”
Sometimes, it’s a defensive end, and at other times it’s been a linebacker. As the game progresses Kittle finds the chink in the armor of the opposing team and zeroes in on it.
“There are some teams where I think the backups play the run better than the some of their starters,” Kittle said. “If that guy's in, I’m not going to demand to go run against that guy. Just however it feels during the game. I don’t go into the game saying I’m going to go run at a guy.
“My confidence is built throughout the week how I’m feeling against a certain guy, stuff like that. But until I get a couple reps against him, then I know if I can get him or not. And then once it hits that then I know. Then I demand the run hits.”
Kittle’s enthusiasm as a blocker is admired not only by his coach but by his teammates. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo believes the pride he takes in that aspect of his game is infectious and everyone benefits.
“It’s so unique for a guy of his caliber in the pass game, and all the amazing things that he does, that he loves the run game just as much,” Garoppolo said. “I mean the O-line feeds off that, just everybody. It’s contagious. It’s fun to be around that.”
Like Garoppolo, offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey, recognizes Kittle’s rare mentality as well as his talent in the run game.
“You don’t really see it with guys like him who have the status and play making ability that he does in the pass game and stuff,” McGlinchey said. “George is such a complete football player and he takes so much pride in getting his job done in the run game and that’s where our team’s foundation is and that’s what we love to do.
“That’s what makes our team special. We have a guy who is our MVP, our best player, and the thing on his mind is the nitty-gritty stuff and making sure he is doing his part in the 11-man scheme of things to make our run game go. He’s a competitive ass dude and that’s why in that situation he gets it going.”
Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday)
Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m.