SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The last time San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle faced the Denver Broncos in the regular season, he had the most productive day of his NFL career. Which means Kittle’s return from the groin injury that sidelined him for the first two weeks of this season couldn’t come at a better time.
Yes, Kittle will make his season debut Sunday night against the Broncos, coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed Friday afternoon.
“He’s ready to go,” Shanahan said. “I thought he was getting better every day. He means a ton in both [the run and pass game]. Kittle has been one of our best players here over the years when he’s been there. We have to get him back into football shape just because he hasn’t played for a while, but he helps us in all areas.”
Kittle got through the training week without any problems, participating in the first two sessions in a limited capacity and going full Friday. He has no injury designation on Friday’s injury report.
“I’m pretty happy,” Kittle said Thursday. “Just had a breath of fresh air, honestly. It’s great to be back on the football pitch with the boys. I love our performance team. They do a fantastic job of bringing us together but I would be ok with not really seeing them for the rest of the season. So really happy to be back there catching the football, being able to put pads on, hitting people.
Kittle first suffered the groin injury on Sept. 5, a “bonus” workout the Niners had ahead of the season opener against the Chicago Bears. He didn’t play that week or last week against the Seattle Seahawks, although he participated in practice Sept. 16 for the first time.
Kittle’s return means Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will have his full roster of wide receivers in his first start of the season after replacing injured quarterback Trey Lance (broken right ankle). The Niners wouldn’t mind if Kittle reenacted his performance from the last time the Niners and Broncos met, Dec. 9, 2018.
In a 20-14 win at San Francisco, Kittle had seven catches for 210 yards and a touchdown. All of that damage came in the first half and Kittle was shut out in the second half, leaving him just short of Shannon Sharpe’s record for receiving yards from a tight end in a game (214).
Regardless of the opponent, Kittle is clearly thrilled to be back on the pitch, noting he’s been “a bit impatient” to get back.
“But that’s what Sunday night football is for,” Kittle said. “Just go out there and let it all out. It’ll be fun.”
One 49er who may not join Kittle on the field Sunday night is defensive lineman Arik Armstead. Armstead is suffering from a foot injury and although Shanahan said on Wednesday he expected him to be “fine”, his status is up in the air. Armstead is officially listed as doubtful but did not train this week.