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Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ George Kittle looking to avoid another early-season slump

Jun 7, 2023 at 10:16 AM--

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George Kittle was inactive for the first two games of last season due to a groin injury. The San Francisco 49ers tight end averaged under 30 receiving yards in the two games following his return.

The production started to increase from there. The All-Pro tight end felt healthy toward the end of the season, amid a 12-game win streak (including the playoffs). That has carried into this offseason, which is significant for the player who often exits a season feeling the wear and tear on his body.

"It just allowed me to work the way that I wanted to work earlier in the offseason," Kittle told reporters on Tuesday. "Not to take so much time off to rehab and recover, do a bunch of treatments and stuff like that. I was actually just able to get a good foundation in, really up my training towards the start of OTAs, came in in great shape, being able to get out on the field, run good routes, catch the ball, not to miss stuff."

Even as many veterans sat out the voluntary organized team activities that preceded this week's minicamp, Kittle was out there on the practice field with the younger players.

The tight end added, "It's way more fun to be on the football field than on the side watching."

Kittle hopes to avoid another early-season slump and build upon his more-respectable later-season production into 2023. He finished with a career-high 11 touchdowns, including seven in his final four games of the season.

"I missed the first two [games], and after that, I'm pretty sure I averaged like three catches for like 30 yards for my next six games, which, for someone [who gets paid] a lot of money, that's kind of unacceptable for me," Kittle said.

Kittle is averaging $15 million per season over the life of the five-year deal he signed in 2020.

"So I was pretty upset with that," Kittle continued, "and definitely got in the flow of things towards the middle [portion] of the year and was very confident my run game, very confident the way I was running routes, catching the ball, getting in the end zone.

"But over the course of the season, my level of play increased, and I think our whole team did. I mean, we were on a 12-game win streak, and everybody was playing at a pretty high level. Always stuff to improve on. I go back after every season. I watch every single route that I run, whether they're balls thrown to me or not."

What did Kittle takeaway from those film sessions? What has hee been working on this offseason to improve his contributions on the football field?

"Can always get in and out of breaks faster," Kittle responded. "At 245, you've still got to get in and out of those things quicker. Watch other tight ends that do it. They're around the same weight. See how they do it, try to apply that to my game still. Or just watching guys on our roster too.

"Ross Dwelley is a guy who always—he's phenomenal at that. He might not be the fastest guy, but he gets in and out of his breaks really quickly. He's got great footwork at the top. I could name off five other tight ends in the league that you can watch too, but that's a big one."

Kittle admits that his head coach, Kyle Shanahan, often gets on him for using his body to catch footballs. That's another area of improvement.

"I think I'm the best NFL [at those type of catches] after [Antonio Brown] retired," Kittle said, "but I'll just work on my hands, always extending, getting the ball out there and just give [my quarterbacks] a bigger, wider catch radius, I think."


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