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The secret to Niners TE George Kittle’s greatness

George Kittle is the best tight end in the NFL. Pro Football Focus went so far as to name him the best player in the sport this season. The third-year 49er — the former fifth-round draft pick — is irreplaceable to San Francisco, which is aiming to win their first Super Bowl in 25 years on Sunday.

But what makes Kittle — and the 49ers, by proxy — great?

It’s not simply his abilities in the passing game, though he set the NFL record for receiving yards last year and is one of the NFL’s best players — regardless of position — at gaining yards after the catch.

It’s not his outstanding blocking skills, either. Kittle is arguably the best run-blocker in the NFL, even as a tight end.

No, what separates Kittle, according to the 49ers’ run-game coordinator Mike McDaniel, is his attitude.

He absolutely loves the game.

It might sound cliche, but it’s truly rarer than you’d be led to believe. As McDaniel explained Monday:

“When your best player is never nervous and always excited, it’s hard not to win more than you lose,” McDaniel said at Super Bowl Opening Night. “Your best players set your standard, and young players follow suit.”

“They see George Kittle. This guy goes to extra meetings. He does sled work pre-practice, every day, and in the NFC Championship Game, he’s saying ‘I don’t want another pass, just run behind me the rest of the game’. You have no choice as teammates and coaches but to be selfless and do whatever it takes.”

And Kittle’s set records and dominated opponents with a torn right labrum, an injury sustained in the 2018 preseason.

“It’s something I’ve played with for two years. Now it’s all scarred over,” Kittle said Monday. “It’s something that if I need surgery, it can wait until I’m done playing football.”

“It’s a mental toughness thing. Your best ability is availability and if you’re not on the field, they can’t use you and you don’t play. So, I try to play as much football as I can.”

If that’s not a love of the game, I don’t know what is. That no-excuse attitude and relentless passion makes it easy to see why the 49ers follow his lead. Add in his elite level of play, and you can understand why San Francisco is in the Super Bowl.

“We were sure glad that he fell to the fifth,” McDaniel said. “In hindsight, we should have taken him first.”

“He’s real good… at everything.”

 

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