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.” 

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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.” 

49ers' Kyle Shanahan ranked as 23rd-best veteran head coach by NFL.com


49ers' Kyle Shanahan ranked as 23rd-best veteran head coach by NFL.com

The first two years of 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan's tenure has been light on wins, yet expectations remain high. 

San Francisco was 10-22 in Shanahan's first two seasons at the helm, searching for a quarterback before acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017 and scrambling to replace him after he tore his ACL last year. There have been some promising moments, but not enough to move the 49ers out of the top 10 of the NFL draft in either of the last two years. 

Because of that, NFL.com's Elliot Harrison ranked Shanahan 23rd out of the 26 returning NFL head coaches. 

This might not be a fair ranking for a guy who kept the 49ers competitive in the second half of the season while having to play musical chairs at quarterback," Harrison wrote. "The problem here is that Shanahan hasn't really accomplished anything yet as a head coach, which makes the criteria for evaluating his performance somewhat narrow."

To his credit, Shanahan coached up two rosters short on talent. The 49ers finished in the top half of the league in total offense in each of the last two seasons, despite Garoppolo only making eight starts. 

But the 49ers have not had the same success on defense, and heavily invested on that side of the ball over the offseason. The potential for improvement is there in 2019, but San Francisco enters the year having won fewer than a third of its games under Shanahan.

[RELATED: Why Peter King thinks Jimmy G is key to 49ers' playoff hopes]

"That [10-22] record isn't masked by the obvious upside of the roster, or the potential many see in Shanahan," Harrison continued. " ... Shanahan seems to be a good communicator, and is both confident and comfortable with himself. Whether that will translate into contention in the NFC West remains to be seen."

A 2019 turnaround should move Shanahan up Harrison's rankings. After his first two seasons coaching the 49ers, there isn't much room anywhere else. 

Jimmy Garoppolo calls learning from Tom Brady on Patriots 'invaluable'


Jimmy Garoppolo calls learning from Tom Brady on Patriots 'invaluable'

Jimmy Garoppolo spent three-and-a-half seasons as Tom Brady's backup quarterback in New England. Over that span, the 49ers' QB appeared in only 17 games, starting two. 

Still, he learned plenty behind the six-time Super Bowl winner. 

More than anything, Garoppolo witnessed the immense amount of preparation Brady put into his game every day. Garoppolo recently told The Ringer's Kevin Clark that it was "invaluable" to was the legendary signal-caller as a rookie. 

"I can barely put it into words. What you learn is playing the game within the game, that’s a big part of Tom," Garoppolo said. "I don’t even know if he told me that [directly], but he would always talk about the game within the game." 

The story has been told time and time again. Brady beat the odds years ago as a sixth-round draft pick who ran the 40-yard dash in quick sand. Garoppolo emphasized it's the little things that make the Patriots legend an all-time great. 

"The little details and how he ties them all together -- that’s what separates you," Garoppolo said. 

[RELATED: Why Peter King thinks Jimmy G is key to 49ers' playoff hopes]

The two QBs have remained friends after Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers on Halloween in 2017. They were even seen together at the Kentucky Derby this year.

As much knowledge as Garoppolo soaked up from Brady, the 49ers hope it shows in a healthy year this season.