Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

George Kittle says 49ers ‘really taking a step forward’ with high attendance for OTAs

May 28, 2021 at 4:54 PM--

Organized team activities (OTAs) are voluntary. Players don't have to attend. Some teams have seen a significant amount of their rosters opt to attend virtually, skipping the on-field work and even being in the buildings due to continued and understandable concerns surrounding COVID-19.

The Seattle Seahawks were among the teams that saw a limited number of players report to the team's facility for this phase of the offseason program. When asked about the reduced attendance this week, head coach Pete Carroll downplayed the lower turnout compared to the rest of the division.

"I don't manage anything on what's going on around the rest of the league," Carroll said. "We're just doing what's best for us, what our guys need to do. We're making terrific progress, we've been here before with what we can get done virtually and it's going great."

San Francisco had nearly perfect attendance when players reported last week. Most are vaccinated too, which makes things safer for everyone involved.

"I did get vaccinated," quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said on 95.7 The Game. "I'd say the majority of [the players] are. I know a couple aren't, but the majority are."

Added Garoppolo: "We had so many guys come back for OTAs. I think we had damn near the whole team, and it was a lot of fun to just be with them, be around them, and just get some normalcy."

That's important for the 49ers, as the team hopes to bounce back from its six-win season in 2020.

"I'm pretty sure we have everybody, but two guys here," tight end George Kittle said this week. "And I think Dee Ford was here the entire offseason, so he's just taking some time at home. Nick's (Bosa) still recovering, doing his rehab stuff. So the fact that we have our entire team here, other than those two guys, it's awesome."

Center Weston Richburg, who plans to retire, and kicker Robbie Gould also are not present.

"And what it says about this team is that we want to be here, we want to get better, and we want to be able to bond as a team and take those steps forward," Kittle continued. "I know there's not games on Sundays, but those four days of practice, or three days of practice in a Phase Two day, you use those, and you stack those days up, and you're going to get better."

Due to stricter COVID protocols and the lack of a vaccine, the 49ers didn't participate in on-field work last offseason until training camp. Every NFL team was impacted, in fact, making for one of the strangest offseasons in recent memory, aside from a lockout year in 2011.

"These weeks of OTAs are big for our entire team and it's big for our coaches too," Kittle added, "because they can learn better ways to install plays for this [summer] camp, and they're just learning the best way to coach guys, really. So, the whole team is really taking a step forward."

Head coach Kyle Shanahan was concerned that he might only get the mandatory minicamp in June with his entire team and have to once again deal with a limited offseason. He was relieved when most of his players reported, even though they were not required to. However, even with nearly perfect attendance, there were some hurdles to overcome due to restrictions leading up to the start of OTAs.

"I was really happy. You know what I mean?" Shanahan told reporters this week. "You hear a lot of that stuff, but for our guys to show up like they did—my biggest concern was only getting a week with the guys. I think this is my 18th OTA since we didn't have one last year. I've never had OTAs without being around the guys for five weeks prior, so you've got a very good idea of where they're at.

"We've only been around these guys for four days until our first OTA. So that's what made me really nervous in terms of just putting these guys out there. That's why we've had to take some reps away, and hopefully, we'll get to normal OTAs next week. But our guys came in, and we got guys who really enjoy football."

Maybe — just maybe — this will give San Francisco an edge over other teams like the Seahawks, who may be playing catchup this offseason.

"I know there's a lot of different opinions on all that stuff," Shanahan added, "but it's hard to get better at football if you don't practice it. It's hard to get better at any sport if you don't practice playing the game. There's lots of ways to improve yourself, but you've really got to practice the sport get better at it."

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