The 49ers have played most of their 2020 season without two of their most influential leaders from 2019, and George Kittle admitted Thursday that it has taken a toll on the team.
During the offseason, All-Decade left tackle Joe Staley decided to hang up his cleats. Additionally, All-Pro Richard Sherman has been out since Week 1 rehabbing a calf injury. Both veteran leaders took pride in holding their teammates accountable, which played a part in the team’s Super Bowl run in 2019
Kittle shared that he sought the advice of Staley, the retired 49ers captain, after the team’s embarrassing loss to the Miami Dolphins. The All-Pro tight end also revealed Thursday how terrified he was of Staley when they first met, because the veteran was “kind of a prick sometimes.”
But he learned the reason behind Staley’s different moods, the two became close friends.
When coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were hired by the 49ers in 2017, one of the most noticeable changes was the marked difference in the attitude in the locker room. There was no pointing of fingers. Instead, there was a genuine closeness and “brotherhood" amongst the players.
Lynch often has mentioned that the team’s goal is to sign players who love playing football. 2019 seemed to unfold like clockwork with nice players who love the game. But now, faced with the adversity of a 2-3 start, does the roster need more of an edge?
After Kittle’s comments Thursday, I went out on a limb and asked Shanahan on Friday if an “a—hole element" was missing from his locker room. The question seemed to take the coach by surprise, and then he revealed why.
“Nice, I like that you swore,” Shanahan said. “I’m always nervous to do that.”
Shanahan went on to explain that each player has his own style of leadership, and while sometimes being an "a--hole" is part of someone’s natural tendency, he doesn’t want Kittle, or any other player forcing it.
“I don’t think so,” Shanahan said. “I don’t want guys to learn how to be that word that you said. I want people to be themselves. If they feel like being that way and it’s natural then go ahead and be that way.”
Kittle is a naturally light-hearted and positive person, and through his discussion with Staley, will be focusing on holding everyone on the team accountable -- including himself. Shanahan is appreciative of his tight end’s leadership, but wants to make sure it comes from a genuine place.
“I think George is a hell of a captain and does it a great way,” Shanahan said. “Staley was a hell of a captain and does it a great way. I appreciate George trying to do everything he can to get better but I just want George to be himself and don’t try to be Staley -- be yourself.”