49ers

Remaining healthy and productive is a stretch for 49ers tight end Kittle

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AP

Remaining healthy and productive is a stretch for 49ers tight end Kittle

Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch spoke separately in February about the need for 49ers tight end George Kittle to find a way to remain healthy.

It’s a reasonable concern. After all, Kittle sustained a hamstring injury on the third day of training camp. He was treated for injuries to his hip, chest, elbow, back, leg and ankle during the season.

Through it all, Kittle missed just one game due to an ankle injury and came through with an impressive rookie season after being chosen in the fifth round of last year’s draft from Iowa.

Kittle ranked second in the NFL among rookies in receiving yards last season. His 43 catches for 515 yards were the most by any rookie NFL tight end drafted after the fourth round.

The future is bright. But – as Shanahan and Lynch were pick to point out at the NFL scouting combine – Kittle must find a way to avoid injuries. Kittle addressed his offseason training regimen during the 49ers Insider Podcast.

“I was banged up a little bit,” Kittle said. “I did a whole offseason of just preparing my body -- a lot of band work -- to get my body used to hard hits and stuff like that. I did as much stretching as I could because the more flexible you are, the less likely you are to pull something.”

Kittle said no player can ever eliminate the possibility of injuries, but he took steps he believes will give him a better chance to remain able to perform.

“I think you can protect against some injuries,” Kittle said. “You can’t protect against, you’re running an outside zone and a guy falls down behind you onto your ankle or something. You can’t control stuff like that.

“I think a lot of it is luck of the draw, in my opinion. But there are things you can do to help yourself. If a stiff guy gets hit from behind, his likelihood of getting hurt is probably higher than a guy who’s super-limber.”

As a tight end, Kittle has to balance building up the weight and strength required to block defensive ends, while also remaining light enough to run pass patterns against defensive backs.

Kittle is currently in the same situation as quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard, as each is going through his first full offseason program with the 49ers in Santa Clara.

“They’re both fantastic quarterbacks,” Kittle said.

Beathard, a college teammate of Kittle, started five games last season.

“He proved his toughness, taking hits, getting up, making plays,” Kittle said of Beathard.

In the final five games with Garoppolo at quarterback, Kittle caught 15 passes for 224 yards. He caught four passes for 100 yards in the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams to become the first 49ers rookie tight end since Monty Stickles in 1960 to have 100 yards receiving in a game.

Kittle praised Garoppolo for his leadership and his uncanny ability to locate the open man.

“It’s fun because you know you’re going to get the ball,” Kittle said. “He sees the whole field at all times.”

49ers Mailbag: Will 49ers look for safety help after Jimmie Ward injury?

49ers Mailbag: Will 49ers look for safety help after Jimmie Ward injury?

One week of 49ers organized team activities is in the books.

Nearly a quarter of the 49ers’ 90-man roster is sidelined by injuries. The good news is that none of the unexpected ailments is expected to keep anyone out of action into the start of the regular season.

Let’s open the 49ers Mailbag to see what’s on the minds of those chiming in on Twitter (click here to follow @MaioccoNBCS):

Will SF be looking to sign another safety (Tre Boston, Eric Berry, etc) since Jimmie Ward got injured? (@Irfannzo)

I do not get that sense.

Here’s something I feel confident about stating: If you believe the 49ers have major weaknesses at the safety positions, the organization disagrees with you.

Jimmie Ward is expected to be out eight to 12 weeks (I’m hearing the 12-week estimate is being ultra-cautious). The 49ers believe, if healthy, Ward is their best defensive back. Period. So if they believe he is going to be ready from this injury in plenty of time for the regular season, then they also believe there is no reason to react.

Of course, this latest injury only adds to the long list of broken bones Ward has experienced since becoming an NFL player. So the 49ers must also be comfortable with the backup.

The backup free safety, Adrian Colbert, was the no-questions-asked starter at that position last year at this time. He did not build on the promising end to his rookie season, and now he figures to be No. 2 on the depth chart.

There is a segment of 49ers fans who are asking about Eric Berry and Earl Thomas. But applying the same reasoning as the drawback to Ward, those players do not make much sense, either. Berry, 30, has missed 29 games the past two seasons due to injuries. Thomas, 30, has missed 19 games the past three years with injuries. Ward, 27, has missed 21 games the past three years.

As for Boston, he is seen as more of a hybrid safety, and not necessarily the kind of player who is a fit for the 49ers’ need. Boston, 26, remains unsigned, and could be heading for his fourth team in four years.

Plus, if the 49ers believe a healthy Ward is better than all the available options – and, yes, that’s what I believe the 49ers believe – then, why would one of those veteran players come to the Bay Area on a one-year contract to be an insurance policy?

Are the 49ers wrong in their assessment of the safety positions? We’ll find out. But I do not believe they feel an urgent need to bring in a veteran – at this time.

Which RB will get the most touches in the regular season? (@EliasMata)

The big question with Jerick McKinnon is whether he will be the same player in his first season back from ACL surgery. It might take him a while. Therefore, Tevin Coleman is most likely to be the back who gets the most touches – both as a runner and a receiver.

Coleman is the clear favorite with the next three players in line, McKinnon, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert, unable to participate in OTAs.

What do the 49ers have for a succession plan for McGlinchey when he replaces Staley? Will we see that in the draft next year? (@TnNinerfan)

Joe Staley enters the final year of his contract. He will be at left tackle for as long as he wants to play – and as long as he continues to play at a high level. Mike McGlinchey moves four spots to this left when Staley steps aside.

By the end of this season, the 49ers should have a good idea whether Shon Coleman or Justin Skule -- or someone else on the team -- can start at right tackle for the future. If the long-term answer is not on the team, they will look toward the 2020 draft.

How worried should we be about Bosa’s injury situation (@ssschreffler)

Nick Bosa sustained a grade-1 right hamstring strain during OTAs on Tuesday. That’s not a big deal at all. Other top defensive rookies, Quinnen Williams (calf) and Josh Allen (knee bruise), are also missing time with their respective teams.

If the 49ers want to get Bosa back on the field for the end of OTAs or the mandatory minicamp, they can do that. My guess is they’ll shut him down, as a precaution, to get him ready for the opening of training camp in late-July.

But when you take into account his history, then I can completely understand the concern. It was Bosa's only real drawback as a draft prospect.

Who do you predict will play more snaps on the defensive line in 2019 between Armstead and Thomas? (@Citizen510)

Arik Armstead is a very good run defender. That’s his forte. Solomon Thomas is still trying to find his niche. I think they will both get a lot of playing time, but my guess is Armtead sees more playing time.

The 49ers’ adjustments on the defensive line should benefit both players. So, ultimately, the 49ers will ride the player who gets hotter as an inside pass rusher in nickel situations.

Matt, who do you think the favorite is to start at SAM now that the 49ers are moving to a more traditional 4-3 front in their 9-wide scheme? (@Chazcast)

Mark Nzeocha lined up at the strong side position with the first team last week during OTAs. But I’ll go with Malcolm Smith as the starter, as long as he’s healthy. The 49ers would not have restructured Smith's contract and brought him back if they viewed him as a backup and special-teams player.

My wife and I take "gamecations" from Santa Fe, NM every year. Which away game do feel is best to go see this season? Unfortunately, we chose Seattle last season. (@ShanoPerez)

OK, now we’re talking. I love this stuff.

First, a word of advice: Make it about more than the game. If your enjoyment of a football trip is based solely on the outcome of a game, there’s a good chance you’re going to come away disappointed.

Seattle is absolutely one of my favorite road trips because the stadium is walking distance from any hotel downtown. Moreover, the restaurants, craft breweries and sites are as good as it gets.

New Orleans is unlike any NFL city in the country. Yes, Bourbon Street is dirty and stinks, but the food is so great. As I see it, New Orleans and Washington are the clear favorites for top 49ers road trips for 2019.

[RELATED: Jimmy G back on the field, expects to be ready for camp]

Ordinarily, Seattle easily ranks ahead of Los Angeles, but that game falls on Week 17 this year. That makes it a crap shoot of what you’ll be getting. Arizona is good, but I dropped it down to last place this year because not a lot of people can get away for a Thursday game.

I also believe the rest of the trip should build up to the game, not the other way around.

49ers' George Kittle rated as top tight end in NFL, per Sporting News

49ers' George Kittle rated as top tight end in NFL, per Sporting News

Who is the best tight end in the NFL?

Well, believe it or not, 49ers GM John Lynch isn't 100 percent confident saying George Kittle deserves that title.

Nevertheless, Sporting News declared the 25-year-old is the best guy in the league at the position -- and there is plenty to back up that statement.

Last season, the Iowa product set the 49ers franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end in a single season with 1,377. He also averaged 15.6 yards per catch, which Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer dubbed as "ridiculous." And he's not wrong. 

Kittle should benefit even more from a full season with Jimmy Garoppolo, who also will have new pass-catching weapons Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd and Jordan Matthews at his disposal. 

[RELATED: 49ers considered Ward's injury history with one-year deal]

Kittle finished his 2018 campaign with 88 receptions, five touchdowns, and well, you know the yardage.