49ers fans that have watched George Kittle at any point in any game, can agree. This man steps on the field to play the game of football, not to be your fantasy-scoring tight end. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan won’t have it any other way. And in the upcoming Week Five game against Carolina, Kittle’s versatility will be on full display.
“We definitely want to get him the ball more,” Shanahan said.
Some may have heard that comment and thought “Yes! How hard is it? Get Kittle the ball!” In the Twitter verse, some were whispering, making comments about Kyle’s inability to use Kittle, or Jimmy Garoppolo’s inability to throw it Kittle’s way.
After the Shanahan comment, many started envisioning George Kittle breaking away from three defenders, streaking down a sideline, and ripping up some Bank of America Stadium turf crumb rubber. But don’t jump to any conclusions here folks. Shanahan didn’t end his conference there. He finished with this.
“But it’s something we’re not that concerned about,” Shanahan said.
That Kittle Highlight In Your Head Just Faded To Black
Translation, Kittle does it all and him just being on the field is critical to play success. This is what separates football players from well, guys that just play football.
Kittle’s versatile, we get it. Having a tight end that is a great blocker (both against the pass and the run) is so critical to an offense’s success that you cannot simply line him out wide and throw to him. You’d be turning a big, athletic, dynamic player, at a dynamic position into a wide receiver. This team doesn’t have a gap there. This team doesn’t need Kittle to be that guy. Especially now.
San Francisco’s all-pro left tackle Trent Williams went down in Week Three with a high ankle sprain. San Francisco went on to lose 11-10 to Denver and converted an atrocious one of ten on third downs. Undoubtedly, Trent William’s absence was felt. And as Jennifer Lee Chan with NBC Sports Bay Area mentioned, his timetable is 4-6 weeks and he hasn’t placed weight on that ankle yet. He’s out for another month plus.
Fans spent that following week grabbing lifejackets and scooping water out of a sinking team. It’s Week Four with the defending Super Bowl champs in town. The game starts and something unexpected happened- their 2020 fifth-round backup left tackle Colton McKivitz. With a full week of preparation, he stepped into that ultra-critical position, slid his feet into those massive Trent Williams shoes, and stepped up.
Just as that Pacific Ocean tide had taken Trent Williams out to sea, it brought Colton in. There was renewed hope. Jimmy Garoppolo had time to throw. He wasn’t sacked. McKivitz was sitting on an 85.6 pass-blocking grade according to Pro Football Focus and had only allowed one quarterback pressure in a combined 45 snaps played.
Now going into Week Five, that LT position rests on the shoulders of well, nobody. That’s according to the 49ers’ unofficial depth chart updated on September 22nd. That’s right, there is no backup left tackle listed after McKivitz. In reality, it’s going to ride on another fifth-round draft pick, offensive tackle Jaylon Moore. Now Moore up until Week Three was being groomed for right tackle, penciled in behind Mike McGlinchey.
Are you starting to see how this is all circling back to the “Football Kittle” reference? As much as some of us would love to see Kittle unleashed, it’s not happening in Week Five. But you might be thinking that tight ends can chip block at the line, roll out, get theirs and still help block.
That’s precisely what the Rams had planned to do on Monday night against a ferocious 49ers defensive line. Six of Higbee’s ten receptions started with him blocking. Stafford was sacked seven times that game as they settled for three field goals and lost. How’d that work out for them?
Some Good News For Kittle
George Kittle is one heck of a blocking TE and now is exactly when San Francisco needs someone of his caliber. More good news? As we’ve seen before, Shanahan doesn’t need 14 targets (what Tyler Higbee got on Monday night) for Kittle to be effective. If history is an indicator there will be two or three plays a game where Kittle will have his opportunity for a big passing play. He could very well end up with a three receptions on three targets for 80 yards and a touchdown type game. All while spending 80 percent of his time on the line helping to dissipate the tidal wave that is Brian Burns.
An educated guess would be to assume George Kittle’s blocking prowess will be used to keep both Jaylon Moore and Jimmy Garoppolo upright. Those looking for the breakout 2019 pass-catching George Kittle may have to wait until there is a healthy Trent Williams on that line. Until then, we should all be happy we are witnessing a dying breed playing his position to the peak of its ability.