The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up their final practice of the offseason workout program on Thursday, and rookie tight end George Kittle is getting as much buzz as anybody.
We’ve heard plenty of positives about a host of players, but Kittle might be topping the list in that regard. Matt Maiocco declared him the most impressive rookie, and Grant Cohn has been banging the drum on him for a while.
The 49ers tight end depth chart was full heading into the offseason, but there were question marks about every one of the options. The team eventually signed veteran Logan Paulsen, drafted Kittle, and signed rookie free agent Cole Hikutini. They attempted to trade Vance McDonald, but were unsuccessful.
All of this is to say, it is likely we see some significant changes when the 49ers make final roster cuts. Kittle got work with the first team offense during minicamp, and it seems like he has all sorts of momentum heading into training camp.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan offered up some general, but complimentary comments about the rookie:
“Yeah, I think George is, like everyone, but George is coming, really battling. He’s competed in the run and the pass game. George is a guy you can tell he is going for it, because the way he competes on the field, which you guys have seen at the times you’ve been out there. Mainly, what he does off the field too. He’s really trying to learn it and that’s given him a chance to show up a little bit.”
Quarterback Brian Hoyer went into a little more detail when asked if Kittle has impressed him.
“Yeah, he has. I joked because his offensive coordinator there is [University of Iowa offensive coordinator] Brian Ferentz. He was with me in New England. I said, 'I'm going to text him and tell him that they were using you the wrong way.' You think of Iowa, you think of these big, blocking tight ends. He has a really good football awareness, is what I would call it. A feel for where to break, how to break, read-zones. I've been surprised and, obviously, it's a good thing for us to have a guy who has that football awareness and some feel of the game to it. Obviously, that play was another hard play-action. We got everybody to suck up and they cut him loose. There wasn't really much for him to do on that one, but there was a play later on in practice where we basically gave him a two-way go and he made a great choice and caught the ball. Everybody is improving. I think that's the biggest thing, rookies, vets, everybody. Now we're in our last week. We've been running the plays. Like I said before, now you're coming back around and running some plays again. It's improvement. Now, every play is not great, but you learn from the bad ones and you keep capitalizing on the good ones.”
Given how little security there is for any of the tight ends in a given role, it would not be at all surprising to see Kittle claim a significant opportunity. He needs to produce once pads go on and the preseason arrives, but he seems to be maximizing his opportunities to date.