49ers

Pro Bowl: George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk to represent 49ers in Orlando

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AP

Pro Bowl: George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk to represent 49ers in Orlando

Tight end George Kittle’s breakout season landed him a spot in the Pro Bowl.

Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk were the only 49ers named to the Pro Bowl team. Juszczyk is a starter, while Kittle is a reserve.

Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, kicker Robbie Gould and special teams player Mark Nzeocha were selected as Pro Bowl alternates. Buckner is the 49ers' only first alternate, a league source told NBC Sports Bay Area.

Kittle, a fifth-round 2017 draft pick from Iowa, earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl after being the 49ers’ top offensive player through 14 games. With 72 receptions for 1,154 yards and four touchdowns, Kittle has already set the 49ers’ club record for receiving yards from a tight end.

Juszczyk, a sixth-year pro, made the Pro Bowl for the third time. He made the all-star team in his final season with the Baltimore Ravens and his first two with the 49ers. He has caught 29 passes for 309 yards, while carrying six times for 21 yards.

Buckner is putting together his best season of his three-year career, but it was not good enough to be selected to the Pro Bowl when the team was announced on Tuesday. His 11 sacks are a career-high, and the most for a 49ers player since Aldon Smith recorded 19.5 sacks in 2012. Aaron Donald (Rams), Fletcher Cox (Eagles) and Akiem Hicks (Bears) made the NFC team at defensive tackle. If any of those players does not attend, Buckner would be invited to participate in his first Pro Bowl.

[RELATED: Buckner's 11 sacks puts him in elite 49ers company]

Gould, 36, has made the Pro Bowl once in his career. Earlier this season, he set the 49ers’ record for most consecutive made field goals with 33. He has risen to No. 2 all-time in NFL history field goal accuracy at 87.62 percent. Baltimore's Justin Tucker leads at 90.55 percent.

Nzeocha was the top vote-getter among fans, as his native Germany turned out in high numbers to support him. Fan voting counts one-third toward selection into the Pro Bowl, with players and coaches consisting of the remaining two-thirds.

Left tackle Joe Staley -- who made the Pro Bowl six of the past seven seasons -- and four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman were not selected.

The Pro Bowl will be held Jan. 27, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

Akiem Hicks shades Mike Glennon to argue Colin Kaepernick blackballed

Akiem Hicks shades Mike Glennon to argue Colin Kaepernick blackballed

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks needed just four words to sum up why he thought former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had been blackballed by the NFL.

"We signed Mike Glennon."

Hicks said as much in a video press conference with reporters Wednesday, referring to Chicago's decision to sign Glennon to a contract worth $18.5 million guaranteed in 2017. Kaepernick, who had kneeled during the national anthem before games to protest police brutality and institutional racism throughout the 2016 season, went unsigned that entire offseason and since then.

Kaepernick's protest has received renewed attention as protestors demonstrate around the world against the same societal issues the QB sought to highlight. George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died last Monday in Minneapolis police custody after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as he pleaded that he couldn't breathe. Floyd's death also occurred within months of Louisville police fatally shooting a 26-year-old African American woman named Breonna Taylor, and nearly four months after two white men allegedly followed and shot Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American man, as he jogged in his Georgia neighborhood.

Kaepernick argued his protest against police brutality cost him his job as part of a collusion lawsuit he ultimately settled with the NFL last February, and he has been a free agent since opting out of his contract with the 49ers -- after they said they would release him otherwise -- in 2017. Former 49ers teammate Alex Smith said last month it's "absurd" Kaepernick, who led San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance and an NFC Championship Game berth in back-to-back seasons, has not been employed by an NFL team since then.

“I think he would have gotten a good deal if he had not protested,” Hicks said. “Does he have all the qualifications that we seem to be looking for in NFL quarterbacks? Athletic. He can get the ball down the field. I think that he fits a lot of those categories. Do I know if he would have gotten a huge deal and gone onto be a Hall of Fame quarterback? I don’t know these things. I just know that when he took a knee, he was silenced -- or they attempted to silence him.”

Some of Kaepernick's critics argued he played his way out of a job. Yes, the 49ers went just 1-10 after a healthy Kaepernick regained the starting job from Blaine Gabbert in 2016. But the QB posted a 90.1 passer rating and 16 touchdowns (to four interceptions), all while playing on a team that current general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan couldn't wait to strip for spare parts the following offseason.

Nine 49ers caught at least 10 passes from Kaepernick in 2016, and seven didn't return to San Francisco the following season. Only one of those nine players, depth tight end Garrett Celek, was on the 49ers' roster in 2019. Three haven't played in an NFL game since then, and another (Rod Streater) has only played in three games -- all in 2018 -- during that time.

[RELATED: Shanahan believes Jimmy G has ability to be "all-time" great]

Of course, the Bears might have seen enough when Kaepernick completed just one of five passes for 4 yards against Chicago in the middle of a December snowstorm. Kaepernick's 45 snaps in that game could've been plenty, considering Glennon played all of 15 snaps in 2016 before the Bears signed him to a three-year contract worth up to $45 million.

But Glennon didn't last a season as the Bears' starter, losing his job to Mitchell Trubisky -- who the Bears selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft following a trade with the 49ers -- after just four games. The Bears eventually cut Glennon in 2018.

Glennon has played for three teams since then, and Kaepernick hasn't played for one.

“What I will say is this, though: It’s not a Chicago problem, it’s an entire-league problem," Hicks said of Kaepernick remaining unsigned. "There’s 31 other teams.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Why 49ers' George Kittle 'loves' playing for head coach Kyle Shanahan

Why 49ers' George Kittle 'loves' playing for head coach Kyle Shanahan

George Kittle has rapidly ascended during his three NFL seasons. Originally a fifth-round draft pick in 2017, Kittle has become one of the league's best tight ends playing in coach Kyle Shanahan's offense.

When asked what it's like to play for the young head coach, Kittle couldn't be more thrilled about having Shanahan at the helm in San Francisco.

"Awesome, Kyle is the man, I love playing for him," Kittle told Will Compton and Taylor Lewan on this week's episode of the "Bussin' With The Boys" podcast. "One of my favorite things about him is he just loves football so much. And when you have a guy that loves football and its not work for him, it makes it pretty easy to play for the guy. He doesn't have to give a pump-up speech, you can just tell how much it means to him."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Kittle also appreciates that Shanahan doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to communicating with his players.

"He's just straight up with everybody," Kittle said. "We were 4-12 (in 2018), and he still got up in front of the team and didn't bulls--t us or anything like, he's like, 'This is why we're not good, this is what we have to do to be better, we just have to work hard and practice better.' So he's always straight up with us."

[RELATED: Steve Young wants 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to challenge Jimmy Garoppolo]

He certainly has evoked a similar reaction from many of his players, as Shanahan's passion helped players gravitate towards the head coach.

Shanahan, Kittle and the rest of the 49ers' roster will come to training camp hungry, looking to avenge a heartbreaking loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.