The casual NFL fan knows San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle as a talented receiving threat who can out-muscle opposing defenders. Kittle literally carrying New Orleans Saints defenders down the field during the 49ers' dramatic Week 14 win may immediately come to mind.

Die-hard 49ers fans, however, know Kittle is much more than that. The tight end takes a lot of pride in his blocking and is an integral part of the team's rushing attack, which ranked No. 2 in the NFL during the regular season.

"If your tight end can't block the outside defensive ends, it's extremely hard to run outside zone," Shanahan told reporters on Monday, "and Kittle can do that whether they're head up on him, which we call six-technique, or if they can do that with their head up outside on him, which we call a nine-technique. That's very rare."

Kittle initially caught the eye of head coach Kyle Shanahan because of his blocking at Iowa. The tight end had just 48 catches for 737 receiving yards with 10 touchdowns during his time with the Hawkeyes. Those are some nice numbers until you realize they weren't from his senior year. They were his combined stats from all four years at Iowa.

Kittle holds the NFL record for the most single-season receiving yards by a tight end with his 1,377 in 2018, and he racked up another 1,053 this season through 14 games.

While Shanahan saw the pass-catching potential in Kittle, he knew the tight end could be a key blocker on offense. Surprisingly, it's that aspect of his game, not his receiving skills, that makes Kittle so much fun to coach.

"An hour before practice every day, you can always hear the sleds outside," Shanahan shared, "because (tight ends coach) Jon Embree takes those tight ends out every single day, and they hit sleds every day to where eventually I'm like, 'Hey dude, you don't need to do it anymore.' But, he does.

"That's what he believes in, and I've seen the results. I mean, those guys only get better, they don't get worse in anything. They play through injuries, they're extremely reliable, and very talented.

"Kittle, everyone knows what he's done in the pass game, but he has never once in three years came up to me during a game and said, 'Hey, I need this route,' or, 'Hey, we've got to do this.'

"He's never once came up to me about a pass play, but he comes up to me about every seven plays about what type of run play we need to do, who we need to allow him to hit, things like that. It makes it very fun to call plays for him."

The 49ers are preparing to host the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, January 19. A San Francisco win would earn the team its seventh Super Bowl appearance.

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