A day after missing practice with a sore ankle and what one teammate called an affinity for “keeping people on edge,” 49ers tight end George Kittle was a full participant in Thursday’s workout. Barring a setback, he should be ready to go for Sunday’s NFC title game against the Packers.
“I feel fabulous,” he said at the start of his news conference after the practice. “Thanks for asking.”
Healthy and polite.
Kittle’s absence on Wednesday sent some shivers through 49ers fans who have seen him emerge from a little-known fifth-round pick to the most well-rounded tight end in the NFL. He is a key to the passing attack, accumulating 1,053 yards and five touchdowns on 85 receptions in 14 games during the regular season.
That’s a role far different from the one he had in college, which is why he wound up with the 49ers.
“We had him as what we thought was the best tight end or one of the top tight ends in the draft, but he wasn't much on anyone's radar,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on Thursday of Kittle coming out of Iowa in 2017. “So we just assumed he was going to be around a third-round guy. And we had to go a different direction in that round and then we were just shocked that he was still sitting there in the fifth. But he had all the measurables and everything. You could see the stuff on tape. He didn't have a lot of production in the pass game. They didn't do that a lot at their school; they did more run game and he was a great run-blocker. I feel like people called him just a run-blocker just because he didn't have the stats. But stats don't tell you much, it's how you move.”
Kittle has retained that impact in the running game while becoming one of the most dynamic pass-catchers — and yards-after-catch accumulators — in the NFL.
"George has been phenomenal. The guy's just an absolute superstar," fullback Kyle Juszczyk said on NFL Network on Thursday. "Arguably the best player in the NFL when the ball is in his hands. But a guy that also embraces doing the little things. Loves being physical. Loves blocking. And just his energy, man, his energy gets all of us going . . . He's the best, he gets all of us fired up and he makes us a better team."
On Sunday, it seems, he’ll be able to do that on the field.
“He likes his theatrics, he likes to get the media going, keep people on edge," Juszczyk said of Kittle missing practice on Wednesday, comparing it to pro wrestling theatrics. "I don't think we have to worry about George not being out there. I really don't think there is anything that could keep him from playing."
It seems not.