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."
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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."
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.