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Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ George Kittle sounds ready to return Sunday, says his style of play hasn’t led to injuries

Nov 4, 2021 at 3:56 PM--

Nothing seems etched in stone yet in terms of whether or not the 49ers will have tight end George Kittle back on the field when they host the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday, but it sure sounds like Kittle is itching to play football again after missing multiple games due to a calf injury.

Kittle was placed on injured reserve on October 9 due to the injury, which he sustained in the 49ers' Week 1 win over the Detroit Lions. He returned to practice for the 49ers this week and gave reporters an update on his status after finishing a practice session on Thursday.

"I feel good," Kittle said. "I'm doing what I can to be prepared for Sunday. Not practicing since Green Bay week, definitely a little bit of rust out there. But I've just got to get back out there -- it's like riding a bike I guess. Just get out there and catch the ball, run some routes, hit some people -- football."

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo told reporters on Wednesday that Kittle had "fresh legs" and was "looking fast." Kittle told reporters he was "doing alright" when it came to whether or not he had fresh legs, but he made it a point to say in tongue-in-cheek fashion that Garoppolo wasn't exactly an authority on his health situation.

"Just so you guys know he lied to you," Kittle said. "He said that before I had practiced. He meets with you guys before practice. He has not seen me run once. He has no idea."

While it sounds like Kittle feels like he'll be ready to go on Sunday ("I miss football. I haven't hit anybody in a long time. I'm very excited to be out there being able to do that again," he said), 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel wasn't as committal. One day after 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters he wasn't 100 percent certain about Kittle's return, McDaniel said it can be difficult to tell exactly how Kittle is progressing simply based off practice observations.

"It's been cool to have him back," McDaniel said. "He brings such energy and juice every time he's on the football field. His will -- you feel like okay, this guy's in premier form, his best shape, whatever, but because he's so tough, you just don't really know what's going on until he gets inside and he talks to the trainers, position coach Jon Embree, talks to Kyle. So from my standpoint, it's been great to have him back and he looks great. But because of his toughness I don't really know what that means or how far he is from being on the football field. I think Charlie (Woerner) and Ross Dwelley have put together some great games these last couple games. We're prepared to move forward that way and hope to get Kittle back as soon as we can, really."

Kittle has had his share of injuries during his NFL career and has had various bumps and bruises limit him to 12 games since the start of the 2020 season. He was asked Thursday if there was anything he can do to better protect himself from further injury and responded by suggesting the problems he's had came from the physical nature of football rather than how he approaches the game.

"Two of my injuries were taking a helmet to the kneecap," Kittle said. "I had a broken foot, and I had a lower body injury this time. Not a single one of those things was from being overly physical, or attacking people, or truck-sticking people, or the run game. So I don't really know how to answer that. I'm just going to try to keep being me. I feel like I do a lot of stuff in the offseason, in-season. All I care about is football and making myself available. Sometimes football's a violent game and it's very unforgiving, and stuff happens and you've got to move onto the next play. Luckily I get a chance this week to go out there and play football."

McDaniel weighed in on whether or not the team should do anything to extra to protect Kittle, saying it would be both a difficult task and one that might not be in the best interests of the team.

"I think there's two different conversations," McDaniel said. "When someone is dealing with an ailment, that's something that over history we've done multiple times with George in limiting his snaps or whatever. Just as far as a healthy player, trying to protect him from himself, that'd be a tough, almost impossible task because you'd be picking arbitrary plays and saying, 'Hey, okay, we're not going to use you here because you might get hurt.' That's every play for a player. It's a testament to George Kittle and how in shape he is really that we're able to use him, but it's kind of a hard thing to say hey, this really good player who's really good with the ball in his hands who team depends on, we're not going to give him the ball.

"But in terms of using him, when a guy's healthy, it's football, so you play your players. He plays a physical-type game, and he will continue to learn how to keep himself out of harm's way as best he can. But it's like an offensive lineman. Should we tell Trent (Williams) to take half his game off? So it's a tough deal. We've never really approached it that way and I don't really see players being substituted for reasons other than you might not be good on this play or you're tired and you can't perform at the best of your ability.

Regardless of whether or not he's at 100 percent or if he'll need to take any extra precautions this week, Kittle was clearly happy to be back at practice. He obviously brings an extra energy and enthusiasm to the 49ers when he's on the field, which seemed to be present on Thursday even if he might have gotten a little cranky at some point after having to stay on the sidelines for most of October.

"It's difficult when you're not out there," Kittle said. "I guess not playing for a while you can definitely be a little bit moody, but I try not to be as moody as Joe Staley and just have a smile on my face as much as possible."

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