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.”
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.
“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.”