49ers

How 49ers will compensate without tight end George Kittle vs. Seahawks

How 49ers will compensate without tight end George Kittle vs. Seahawks

SANTA CLARA -- Tight end George Kittle is not just the 49ers’ most-dynamic option in the passing game. He also is a huge asset as a run-blocker.

The 49ers don't expect to have the services of their Pro Bowl tight end on Monday night for a key matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, so San Francisco must make some adjustments.

Second-year pro Ross Dwelley saw significant action the past four games with fullback Kyle Juszczyk sidelined with a knee injury. Now, Dwelley will help the 49ers compensate for the loss of Kittle, who could miss multiple games with unspecified injuries to his left knee and ankle.

“Nobody on this planet is George Kittle, so we’re not trying to have him go out there and be George Kittle,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “But if George can’t go, I know we have another good tight end to go out there and do that. Hopefully, we can get the other guys out there, also.”

The 49ers expect to get three offensive starters back from injuries for the key NFC West game. Juszczyk is cleared to return, and the club also expects to suit up offensive tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey together for the first time since Week 2.

In addition, Shanahan suggested the 49ers will activate veteran tight end Garrett Celek from the physically-unable-to-perform list. Celek was productive in practice as he returns from offseason back surgery.

“If it was someone besides George, I’d probably already rule him out and we’d get Celek up because he did have a good week of practice,” Shanahan said. “But this was his first week back and I wanted to give him some more time because he hasn’t had OTAs or training camp or anything.

“We’ll see on Monday, but with George being doubtful and if he ends up not playing, we’ll end up getting Celek up, because we need three tight ends available.”

The 49ers must make a roster move by 1 p.m. Monday in order to have Celek available to play in the game.

With Kittle unavailable for the game, the Seahawks might not know how the 49ers plan to attack Monday night. That is expected because Shanahan said he is not quite sure, either.

The 49ers own the league’s second-ranked running game. Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman will get plenty of touches in the game to see if the best route to victory will be on the ground.

But Seattle has been vulnerable against the pass, too. Jimmy Garoppolo is coming off a 317-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Arizona Cardinals. The past two weeks, the Seahawks’ defense surrendered 460 yards passing to Atlanta’s Matt Schaub and 335 yards to Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston.

“It depends on how the game plays out,” Shanahan said. “We never just go into a game saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to air this out.’

“We have the weapons around him. We always have the scheme in that gives us the option to go that way ... And depending what they do, it will dictate how he plays, who he goes to with the ball and how much we throw. Every time Jimmy steps out there, he has that opportunity.”

Where the loss of Kittle will likely be most obvious is run after the catch. Kittle is a dynamic threat with the ball in his hands. Dwelley has seven receptions for 28 yards. Kittle leads the 49ers with 46 catches for 541 yards and two touchdowns.

Juszczyk's return comes at a good time because of his contributions as a lead-blocker and as a receiver out of the backfield to take advantage of certain matchups.

[RELATED: Shanahan explains pressures of 49ers being undefeated]

The 49ers could look for their big plays to come from the wideouts. Emmanuel Sanders immediately became a trusted target for Garoppolo in the two games since his arrival in a trade with the Denver Broncos. Rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel will be asked to carry more of a burden, potentially on third downs.

Also, the 49ers are likely to have veteran Marquise Goodwin active after a strong week of practice. Goodwin, who has 11 receptions for 181 yards in six games, provides another deep threat on the outside for Garoppolo.

How 49ers star George Kittle reminds retired Rob Gronkowski of himself

How 49ers star George Kittle reminds retired Rob Gronkowski of himself

Gronk has spoken. 

The Athletic's Daniel Brown asked the former New England Patriots tight end in the lead-up to Super Bowl LIV who he would take between 49ers star George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs counterpart Travis Kelce. There are no wrong answers, considering either can credibly claim themselves to be the NFL's best tight end since Gronkowski retired last March. 

Gronkowski, though, has a personal preference. 

“Kittle, for sure,’’ Gronkowski told Brown in Miami. “Because he just reminds me of myself a little bit with the way he plays the game.”

In 2018, Kittle and Kelce both broke Gronkowski's single-season record for the most receiving yards by a tight end. Kittle (1,377) barely edged Kelce (1,336), finishing the year with the most prolific campaign by a tight end in NFL history. 

In fact, no tight end caught more passes (216) for more yards (2,945) in the first three years of their NFL career than Kittle. But Kittle's not just a pass-catcher, enjoying run-blocking just as much -- if not more -- than scoring touchdowns. 

Kittle's complete skill set allowed him to break another one of Gronkowski's single-season records, earning Pro Football Focus' highest grade by a tight end. Combine the all-around skills, passion for the sport and a fun-loving personality, and you'd be forgiven for mistaking Gronkowski and Kittle for the Spider-Man meme. 

“I see a little bit of me in both, but I would say I’m definitely more of a Kittle, hands down,’’ Gronkowski said. “I would say that because of the attitude that he brings to the table, just the grit he brings into the trenches. He wants to bring it every time. He wants to be that guy that’s fierce out there and just wrecking guys whether it’s the passing game or the running game.”

[RELATED: Shanahan convinced Sherman to sign with 49ers over Lions]

Gronkowski will be covering Super Bowl LIV as an analyst for Fox Sports, getting an up-close view of the player he sees much of himself in. Kittle will have another chance to better Gronkowski, too.

The retired tight end didn't pick up a ring in his first Super Bowl appearance, as his Patriots once again lost to Eli Manning and the New York Giants. Sunday will mark Kittle's first appearance on the NFL's biggest stage, and he -- and the 49ers -- will hope for a better outcome than that of his predecessor. 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

Why Richard Sherman passed on more guaranteed money to sign with 49ers

Why Richard Sherman passed on more guaranteed money to sign with 49ers

Richard Sherman bet on himself, and it paid off in a big way.

The 49ers' standout cornerback took a big risk when he decided to sign with San Francisco, and that's without even considering the other options that were on the table at the time. The three-year, $39 million contract he signed with the 49ers was not only incentive-laden but carried less guaranteed money than a contract Sherman ultimately passed on from coach Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions.

"But that’s not the kind of football I want to play,” Sherman said of the Lions to The Athletic's David Lombardi. “The way you run their scheme, your culture. You want to do it the Patriots’ way and that’s really not the way I do football."

Patricia, of course, is a disciple of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

"I have fun," Sherman continued. "I like music at practice. I like to hang out and be relaxed in meetings. I don’t like the stressful environment in football. [The Lions] condition every day after practice. My body isn’t built to run all day and night. I’ll be prepared, but I don’t have to be run into the ground."

Sherman has been wise to be extra cautious with his body, particularly being just over two years removed from tearing his Achilles. The 31-year-old might be getting a little long in the tooth for an NFL cornerback, but he was attracted to San Francisco at least in part due to coach Kyle Shanahan's modernized approach.

"That’s what I appreciate about Kyle,” Sherman explained. "His culture and the way he did things was very similar to how we did things in Seattle and what I was accustomed to. That made a huge difference. Hey, I can get this $20 million guaranteed and be in Detroit and lose football games. Or I can go to a place where I’m very comfortable with the scheme, coach and culture and I’m very comfortable with the things they do and I really believe we can win.

"Because I don’t think there’s anybody that can stop Kyle when he has the personnel that he has picked and put into spots, and I don’t think there’s anyone that can beat Saleh when he has the personnel that he has picked and put into spots."

[RELATED: Chiefs rookie believes he's ready to test 49ers vet Sherman]

Sherman has been correct about many things. He was right about Shanahan and Saleh, he was right to bet on himself, and after watching Detroit go a combined 9-22-1 over the last two seasons, he clearly made the right decision to pass on the Lions' offer.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.