49ers

How George Kittle wants to get even better after record-breaking season

How George Kittle wants to get even better after record-breaking season

SANTA CLARA — 49ers tight end George Kittle had a breakout season, and became a leader both on and off the field. Coach Kyle Shanahan, along with general manager John Lynch and the player himself, have sky-high expectations.

It all starts with how Kittle handles his business off the field first.

If there’s one thing very noticeable about Kittle it's that he embodies the phrase “good vibes only.” While he is frustrated by losses, he seems to find the silver lining in everything and exudes positive energy. 

That positive energy might be one of the reasons he was voted to be a team captain by his teammates, which is rare for a second-year player. 

“I just kind of show up and do the same stuff every day,” Kittle said. “I show up as the same guy, goofy. The glass is over-flowing for me. Doesn’t matter what our record is, doesn’t matter how I played in the last game, it’s just who I am and I’m just going to show up and work every single day. 

“I think that is part of being a leader, just being consistent and showing up and I feel like a do a pretty good job at that.” 

[RELATED: How 49ers George Kittle could be one of the all-time great tight ends]

Kittle isn’t going to rest on his laurels. After a few weeks off to let his body recover from the season, he will start his training program back up as he did last year. The one big difference this season? He said he’s healthy enough to still be playing. 

“You always get better at everything,” Kittle said. “Definitely improve route running. You can always have better hands, pass setting. I got left alone with Khalil Mack a few times and I didn’t do very well at it. Hopefully I get another opportunity at that and I can do better. 

“Just small things, everyday things. The biggest thing for me is just to continue to train. Whatever I can do to keep my body healthy for 16 plus weeks and just keep grinding.

In his post-season media session, Lynch spoke about how exciting it is that Kittle hasn’t reached his ceiling yet. 

“The coolest thing about Kittle,” Lynch said, “there's more in there in terms of his will. But there's things that he can develop in his game that can make him an even stronger player. That has George excited. It has us very excited. 

“But, I think the biggest lesson for our team, you watch that guy, that guy outworks people by the way he comes, and it starts not only out on the field, but the way he prepares his body. He's learned that in short order and that makes you really proud.”

Kittle confirmed that both Lynch and Shanahan gave him a goal of getting through the season healthy. 

[RELATED: George Kittle's NFL record shows 49ers tight end's determination, grit]

“They said you’re biggest goal is to see if you can stay healthy an entire season,” Kittle said. “And that’s what I focused all my offseason towards, and I’ll probably do the exact same thing, if not a little more here and there in other places. I started the third week of January. Definitely took two, two and-a half weeks off just doing nothing because you gotta let your body heal after the long season.

"Talking to other players I was training with down in Nashville and guys told me they started training a week after the season and then their bodies burned out too soon during the season.” 

Kittle broke several records this season, including the receiving yards by a tight end. He says the one that was the most enjoyable to achieve was most yards-after-catch in the league. He beat out all wide receivers and running backs with 881 yards after catch. Christian McCaffrey came in second with 871 yards. 

“That one is fun,” Kittle said. “That’s a fun one definitely. Running after you catch the ball is the best part about football. Just seeing green grass and then making guys miss and stuff like that. That’s kind of how you show off if you’re an athlete, what you can do with the ball, it’s just really fun. That was definitely a good one to get.” 

The fact that Kittle accomplished what he did in 2018 with three different quarterbacks is very impressive. He's certainly excited about Jimmy Garoppolo’s return to the field in a few months and the potential for success. 

“Jimmy is a phenomenal quarterback,” Kittle said. “He’s the face of the organization and he deserves to be. I wish you guys could see what he does every day in practice, it’s amazing. You saw it last year in six games and a little bit what he cold do this year before he got hurt. 

“He’s a phenomenal quarterback. It’s kind of on us to help him get back in the feel of things and help him ball out.” 

2019 Senior Bowl: 49ers, Raiders preferences met with teams' rosters

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USATSI

2019 Senior Bowl: 49ers, Raiders preferences met with teams' rosters

The Senior Bowl is not so much a college All-Star Game as it is an NFL projection showcase.

“It’s all about the pros,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “The game is for the NFL. These rosters aren’t for us. This is for the 32 teams.”

The 49ers coaches arrived in Mobile, Alabama, on Sunday evening. Kyle Shanahan and his staff will get to see their collection of players on the South squad on the practice field for the first time Tuesday. The entire week could be a valuable component of the evaluation process for the NFL draft more than three months from now.

The 49ers and Jon Gruden’s staff with the Raiders will have access that no other organizations will be afforded through Saturday’s game.

“We don’t try to babysit these guys this week,” Nagy said. “We want it to be an NFL work week for them. They know which guys are late in the morning for breakfast. They see which guys are attentive in meetings and taking good notes. They see a particular learning style a guy might have or how he bounces back in practice from a bad rep.

"There’s so much behind-the-scenes stuff that the other 30 teams don’t see.”

Nagy is in his first year of piecing together the rosters for the Senior Bowl after spending five years as a Southeast region scout for the Seattle Seahawks. He was also an NFL scout Washington, New England and Kansas City.

“People have to understand there’s a huge different between being a good college player and being a legitimate pro prospect,” Nagy said.

For instance, he said, there is the recent case of Clemson defensive player Ben Boulware, who won the Lambert Award for the best linebacker in college football in 2017. Boulware was also the defensive MVP of the national championship game.

After a week at the Senior Bowl, most teams concluded Boulware was too short and too slow to play in the NFL. He signed with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted rookie. When he was cut before the start of the regular season, the 49ers signed him to their practice squad. He lasted seven days with the 49ers before he was cut.

And that brought an end to his NFL career.

“Ben was a great college linebacker,” Nagy said. “But this game is about finding prospects who are going to play a long time at the next level. And we need to find the best players the NFL wants to see.”

Both teams had input into the composition of their rosters, Nagy said.

“The great thing is that they’re both really happy with the rosters,” Nagy said. “There were a couple of exceptions where each team said, ‘We’d really like to have this guy. If we can spend time with this guy, we’d love to have him.’ They haven’t been too demanding with it. There have been a couple of requests, but no pressure. I’ve tried to accommodate those requests.”

Nagy said he leaned on the teams when it came to bringing aboard late additions to the team. He would present a list of four or five players at a particular position and allow the teams to select which players would join their roster.

Among the late additions to the 49ers’ South roster are running back Wes Hills (Slippery Rock), wide receiver Gary Jennings (West Virginia), offensive tackle Oli Udoh (Elon), defensive tackles Demarcus Christmas (Florida State) and Daylon Mack (Texas A&M), linebacker Gerri Green (Mississippi State) and cornerback Mark Fields (Clemson).

Why Eli Manning nearly missed Giants' 2012 NFC Championship win over 49ers

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AP

Why Eli Manning nearly missed Giants' 2012 NFC Championship win over 49ers

We now know the Rams and the Patriots will square off in Super Bowl LIII, but New England's opponent in Super Bowl XLVI seven years ago could have been much different. 

Manning led the Giants to a 20-17 overtime win over the 49ers in the NFC Championship on Jan. 22, 2012, at Candlestick Park. He completed 32 of 58 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. 

But he nearly missed the game.

David Carr, Manning's backup quarterback that season in New York, revealed Sunday that Eli missed multiple practices leading up to the game because of the flu. 

"We roll into Friday, he's still sick -- can't practice. He's literally in the training room getting IVs all day," Carr said. "Has the flu for like four straight days. So I practice on Friday with the team. So now Eli hasn't had any practice time, I've taken all the reps for the NFC Championship Game.

"He shows up on Saturday, looks fine, he goes through the walk-through, goes to the game. Everything is normal. No one knew. He didn't practice all week."

Oh, what could have been.

Manning threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns in the 2011 regular season. Carr, on the other hand, didn't attempt a single pass.

Two weeks later, Manning led the Giants to a 21-17 Super Bowl win over the Patriots.

Instead of David Tyree becoming a hero, it could have been Michael Crabtree, or, more appropriately, someone like Ted Ginn Jr.