Wes Welker

49ers' George Kittle 'really proud' of team's offseason work, effort

49ers' George Kittle 'really proud' of team's offseason work, effort

George Kittle was ahead of the game in preparing for what has been the most unusual offseason in NFL history. The 49ers tight end built up his home gym before supplies ran out, permitting him to maintain his physical shape.

But, as we know, there's a difference between working out at home and playing football. Players can independently lift and train all they want, but on-field reps in a team setting are essential to success.

That's why several of the 49ers' offensive skill players have met up at various points over the last couple of months to get those reps in while team facilities remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. They've had local workouts at San Jose State, and a large contingent got together in Nashville last month.

Kittle was present for that session, which was the most-attended one yet. On the latest episode of the 49ers Insider Podcast, he told NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco that he came away very impressed with the work his teammates have been putting in.

"Really, everyone looked good," Kittle said of the Nashville session. "It was just fun to see. You could tell guys have been working. That's the effort you want to see. My last two OTAs, guys have come back and everyone might be a little stiff because maybe they weren't training the absolute hardest because there's phase one and phase two of OTAs for you to get fully back in shape. But when everyone showed up, everyone looked good. Everyone was moving fast, catching the ball, communicating well. 

"I think one of my favorite parts is trying to teach guys the motions of our offense, because I think we motion like twice as much as any other team, and trying to coach that was really fun and interesting to watch with the rookies. But I think it was very important for us to get that time together, just so we could install a little bit. Because in the Zoom meetings, you can only do so much, and I think most guys are on-the-field learners. They need to feel it, they need to see it, and we tried our best to replicate a practice."

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

It might not have been the equivalent of a traditional practice despite their efforts, but Kittle still views those sessions as a significant benefit.

"To some extent, you can do that," Kittle continued, "but you don't have coach [Kyle] Shanahan there, you don't have coach [tight ends/assistant head coach Jon] Embree, you don't have [wide receivers coach] Wes Welker there yelling at you, you don't have the defense yelling at you. So, I think it was a good start, but we have a long way to go, and I think the foundation we have put in and that everyone has put in this offseason will definitely give us a step ahead on some teams."

[RELATED: Kittle cites 49ers captaincy, leadership as holdout deterrents]

Whenever the offseason ends, San Francisco's still will have been shorter than all but one other NFL team. That's the price of advancing to the Super Bowl, one every team surely would pay, but only two actually do each year. Given the additional wear and tear the 49ers endured on their path to Super Bowl LIV, it would have been understandable if they took more time before delving into offseason work.

But as Kittle explained, the ending of that game remains fresh in the team's mind and has served as motivation to get back to the grind.

"I'm just really proud of the team," Kittle said. "I've been talking to guys the entire offseason, even guys that don't put up videos and stuff, to just check in. I think everybody feels that. Everyone was disappointed with how the season ended, and everyone's hungry, and I think that's the best thing for a team. If you don't lose that hunger, you come back stronger than ever. So, it's just fun to watch the guys work out and really train. 

"Like I said, OTAs are a big deal, especially for rookies. Like, I can't imagine going into my rookie year without an OTA, just going straight into training camp. But I think we have a mature team, even though we're still really young, and being able just to communicate with my rookies, between Chase [Harrell] and Charlie [Woerner], they're both preparing in the right ways. I think we're all just kind of itching and we're just waiting to play football again."

Throughout league history, teams that lose in the Super Bowl often have gone on to struggle the following season. Despite it being an unprecedented offseason, the 49ers clearly are determined to buck that trend.

49ers' Travis Benjamin ready to compete, earn role in receiving corps

49ers' Travis Benjamin ready to compete, earn role in receiving corps

49ers receivers coach Wes Welker was among the first to reach out to Travis Benjamin last month when the veteran formally hit the open market. His services were requested in Santa Clara but Benjamin ended that exchange understanding that he’d have to battle for a role with the NFC champions.

That didn’t scare Benjamin off. He was ready to come in and fight for a spot in young and crowded position group.

“Before I even got off the phone, we knew I was coming in to compete,” Benjamin said in a videoconference with local reporters. “Nothing is given. Everything is earned. That receiver room, everyone in there knows that, on the first day we met, [position coach Wes Welker] told us that, since we have some new guys and a first-round pick coming in, everyone’s going to compete. That’s what made the room so much better. Everyone knows they’re competing, and everyone’s helping each other out.”

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

Benjamin said it was clear early in this virtual offseason program, where position groups are meeting in videoconferences, that this was a tight-knit group. It’s also a young one where he’s the elder statesman.

Losing Emmanuel Sanders in free agency was a blow, but the 49ers added first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk to a group that includes emerging star Deebo Samuel and another quality option in Kendrick Bourne. The back end of the depth chart should be competitive as Benjamin knows, though his raw speed and return ability will be points in his favor when the 49ers trim the roster before the regular season starts.

He’ll compete with Richie James for return gigs, and Benjamin has proved himself in kick and punt coverage as well. He'll also be in the running to use his speed from the slot, though Trent Taylor will have something to say about that. 

“It doesn’t matter to me, whether it’s kick returner or punt returner, wherever I’m placed,” Benjamin said. “I’m willing to fill that role and make the best out of it.”

[RELATED: Nick Bosa training his 'butt off' to get over 49ers' Super Bowl loss]

His natural speed and familiarity with Kyle Shanahan’s offense from their time together in Cleveland will help him adjust without a true offseason program due to the world’s current public health crisis.

He’s currently working with some former teammates who also live in South Florida, using an approximately 60-yard expanse to practice away from crowds. Benjamin anticipates the 49ers receivers and quarterbacks getting together in a few weeks, while maintaining proper distance, to start building chemistry where possible in this current climate.

Benjamin said he’s excited to work with Welker and join a tight-knit group led by Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, with a chance to make a playoff run. That opportunity is certainly valued by a player with just two playoff games experience in eight NFL seasons.

“I’ve been around for a long time, and I’m at the point where I just want to win,” Benjamin said. “That’s what brought me to the organization.”

Wes Welker, now 49ers coach, doesn't subscribe to Bill Belichick's methods

Wes Welker, now 49ers coach, doesn't subscribe to Bill Belichick's methods

Bill Belichick's Patriot Way has delivered unmatched success over the past two decades, with the legendary coach and quarterback Tom Brady winning six Super Bowls and appearing in three more.

Former wide receiver Wes Welker, now the 49ers' receivers coach, thrived as one of Brady's main weapons, catching 672 passes for 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns in six seasons in New England. But Welker and the Patriots had a messy breakup when Belichick chose not to attempt to re-sign the slot receiver when he hit the open market in 2013.

Belichick's way, while proven effective, can wear on players and Welker doesn't subscribe to the no-nonsense approach to coaching.

"I was still upset about it," Welker told WEEI's "The Greg Hill Show" about his departure from the Pats. "I did want to be there, but there was part of me -- I just like enjoying the game. I like having fun, all those things. Coaching now, you learn a lot from the tactics and different things like that, but at the same time putting your own twist on it and understanding -- I tell my guys all the time: ‘As long as we’re giving great effort and we’re on top of our assignments we’re going to be good. Once it’s not where we need to be, that is when we have problems.’

“Kind of being there and there’s a big mental aspect to the game of being prepared, being this, being that, all those different things, but also enjoying yourself and having fun playing the game. I feel like you’re playing your best ball when you’re having fun and enjoying (yourself). I think there were some times where I didn’t really feel that at times for different reasons -- the guys that we had in the locker room, the camaraderie that we had was better some years than others. We had all these different things and when you’re one of the highest-paid players on the team you’re expected to deliver and like a highly paid player. There’s definitely pressure on that and all these different things is tough and it’s hard. Coach Belichick is hard on guys and tries to get the most out of him that he can.”

There's no question Belichick's my way or the highway attitude isn't for everyone. Even Brady chose to turn in his Patriot Way membership card this offseason, electing to finish his career in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers.

[RELATED: Raiders, 49ers go offense/defense in latest mock draft]

Welker, who began his coaching career with the Houston Texans before joining the 49ers in 2019, no doubt has taken some motivational tricks from Belichick while also crafting his own way that allows his players to be disciplined but also enjoy the journey.