In the many interviews I have gone through to get an idea of who Coach Kyle Shanahan is, I kept coming across the same words to describe him. He’s an architect. He’s intelligent. He’s detailed. He’s complex.

When John Lynch was introduced as the new general manager he raved about Shanahan:

“With Kyle, I think he’s one of the brightest minds in the game. He’s proven that, I think, every step of his career. He had a big challenge because his dad was kind of a big deal in this league. But, Kyle, I think to me, he’s a guy who soaked in all the knowledge and experience of being a coach’s son, but then went out and did it on his own and has become his own man. This year, he engineered one of the most prolific offenses in the history of football. The Falcons led the league in almost every offensive category. He was named ‘Assistant Coach of the Year’ by three esteemed outlets. He’s not only a smart football man, but he’s a leader who sets the tone through his work ethic. I like what Kyle represents because he’s convicted. He knows what he wants and he’s going to find a way to make that happen. I think he’s innovative. I think he’s aggressive. Those are all things I believe in.”

After an excruciating start to the season, the 49ers finally won their first game at home against the New York Giants, after the game, Lynch reiterated his stance on his Head Coach,

“Certain people have it and he’s got it. “

If some may recall, Kyle Shanahan’s first year as an offensive coordinator in Atlanta wasn’t exactly great and it wasn’t exactly terrible. In 2015, the Falcons ranked 7th in total offensive yards per game, 6th in passing yards per game, 19th in rushing yards per game, 6th in receiving yards per game, and 20th in offensive points averaging 21.2 points per game. However, once Shanahan’s offense was acclimated and his chess pieces were in place, the Atlanta Falcons shot up to 2nd in offensive yards per game, 3rd in passing yards per game, 5th in rushing yards per game, 2nd in receiving yards per game, and ranked 1st in the NFL at an average of 33.8 points scored per game.

One thing that stands out to me as we head into mandatory practices and training camp, is that Shanahan got his running back in Jet McKinnon and then revamped the offensive line to his liking.

 

In this article I will take a look at who I believe to be an important piece to the chess game Kyle Shanahan is playing with sophomore tight end George Kittle. In all the years Kyle Shanahan has been an offensive coordinator or assistant, I always thought he was somehow setting up players on the field like a game of chess. Exposing mismatches and causing confusion to his opponent, proceeding as he wishes across the board until eventually it was already too late because he went in for checkmate many moves prior to you figuring out what he was up to. Back during his time with the Washington Redskins, Kyle Shanahan told Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post,

“That’s what I like, the chess match.”

During his time in Cleveland, Kyle Shanahan once said,

“It has been fun to work with different guys, different skill sets, I’ve been very fortunate because I have been forced to go in different directions. When you have to adjust to what you have and just find a way, it gives you confidence that you can make it work in any situation. You realize that there’s more than one way to do things. It really teaches you a lot about yourself as a coach.”

George Kittle is a man with a very particular set of skills. Most recently Coach Shanahan spoke of George Kittle:

“I think George can be a very good tight end in this league. It’s rare that you have a guy who is built to block very well who also runs in the 4.5s and who is quick enough to separate. I think George was a big part of our team last year. I think George played last year hurt almost the entire year. He was hurt a lot in training camp, too. We put a lot of pressure on George early because we needed to and it was up and down throughout the year but he never shied away. We always knew he was hurting, but for him to get away, clean his body up, get healthy, to come back and just watch how he moves right now, it just shows us how banged up he was. He is a tough guy who is going to play through things, but he’s healthy right now. He’s moving great and it’s allowing him to get better in the run and pass. That’ll continue. George has got a lot of ability.”

 

Although we can go back and look at all the film on how Kittle is an excellent pass catching tight end with sure fire hands (Kittle actually came into Iowa as a wide receiver and then put on 50lbs to transition to tight end), first I want to show you why I was more so intrigued on how George Kittle would play into the offense as a blocking tight end.

If you go back to Kittle’s college days, the Kirk Ferentz Era Iowa Hawkeyes have always emphasized a strong rushing attack. The Hawkeyes have averaged over 160 yards per game on the ground each of the last four seasons and a vital component of their game on the ground has been due to their success with the zone-blocking scheme  which Ferentz brought to Iowa City over 16 years ago, and continues to be a staple of their rushing offense.

George Kittle #46 excelled in Iowa’s zone-blocking scheme. Asserts dominance all the way through to open up a lane.

 

Iowa’s success at the zone running game was backed up with success in their zone blocking scheme. Great push off the line here and drives the defensive lineman back.

 

Over the course of the season, as I examined our run plays, #85 was always showing up on film making key contributions on big plays with big blocks.

Follows through with the block against Cliff Avril and shows great football awareness and continues the block until the end of the play which allows Hyde to pick up an additional chunk of yardage.

 

Awesome footwork allows him to keep up with Avril and not let him get by. Scouts raved about Kittle’s ability to dominate blocking defenders.

 

Effective zone blocker, pretty much takes 47 out of the frame and opens the lane for Hyde.

 

Here Kittle is driving into the defender practically putting him on skates.

 

Picks up the blitz and allows Hyde to make the cut he needs to bounce to the outside for a sizable gain. In College, Kittle only allowed a single quarterback pressure over the last two seasons combined. Earned the second-highest run blocking grade (79.6) in 2016 among the TE draft class.

 

In the last game of the season Kittle had what I believe was a breakout game. Displaying that he was able to catch (4 receptions for 100 yards, 25.0 average per catch) but also contributed key blocks on run and pass.

 

Here Kittle picks up the blitz giving Garoppolo enough time to hit Goodwin on the outside which allowed Marquise to pickup the touchdown.

 

Natural zone blocker due to the Iowa Hawkeyes running a ton of zone running/blocking schemes. Here Kittle shows concentration, excellent footwork, balance, and leverage.

 

On the Insider 49ers Podcast with Matt Maiocco Kittle spoke a little about Garoppolo,

“It’s fun because you know you’re going to get the ball. It was really fun with C.J. too because we had chemistry from college. I feel like there were a lot of plays that he didn’t have to look at me but he said, ‘Hey, I’m coming to you no matter what.’ Stuff like that, it was really fun. And especially with Jimmy, he’s a guy that he sees the whole field at all times. You saw that. He came in for what? Three plays against Seattle? And he scrambles out of the pocket but he knows a guy is coming across and so he hits it for a touchdown. You’ve got to be kind of special to do that. He’s a player. You couldn’t ask for much more.”

With Jimmy Garoppolo under center, George Kittle had two of his best three games of his rookie season. Kittle hauled in 15 receptions out of 19 passes thrown his way for 224 yards and one touchdown in his last 5 games of the season with Garoppolo at the helm and finished his rookie year with a total of 43/63 targets, 515 yards, and two touchdowns. Per Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus Jimmy Garoppolo had a 133.3 passer rating when targeting Kittle.

 

On Tuesday Kittle spoke of his off season workout routine and what goals he had in mine for himself and what he was doing to improve going into his sophomore season.

With the added muscle mass to prevent minor injuries from happening and his already blazing speed off the line (4.5 sec 40 yard dash), and reports of chemistry further developing between the two in the off season, George Kittle is assumed to pick up where he left off with Garoppolo under center. Kittle ended the season with 43 receptions for 515 yards and two touchdowns, second on the team in receiving yardage behind Marquise Goodwin. In the last few games, it appeared that George Kittle had become one of Garoppolo’s most trusted check down receivers.

Garoppolo and Kittle seemed to have developed chemistry and timing on this simple out route. It is a play that I noticed is called a few times in the last 5 games.

 

Kittle displays his 4.5 speed and easily runs past the linebackers to get into open space for the easy grab.

 

Coming into the draft, Scouts believed that blocking was Kittle’s strong suit. His ability to seal edges and drive defenders backward was raved about and it shows here as he drives Calias Campbell backwards just enough to allow Hyde to make the cut and find a lane.

 

Here Garoppolo and Kittle execute one of Shanahan’s favorite plays. The “TE Throwback”. An outside zone play-action boot where Kittle quietly blocks across the formation for a while before releasing on a wheel route.

 

Suddenness in his movements. Catches the ball extremely well. Not afraid to run physically after the catch.

 

Again we see the same out route but a different formation turned into a huge gain.

 

On Tuesday the Garoppolo and Kittle connection was definitely in effect.

Don’t be surprised if George Kittle becomes a household name in 2018. When the glass shatters and you see him on the Titantron at Levi’s Stadium, keep watching because Stone Cold Kittle is about to open a can on opposing defenses and follow it up with #PandaMondays at Panda Express on a #VictoryMonday.

For the 411 on the 49 , 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, follow me on Twitter @NinerAlex

Also be sure to check out the interview Nothing But Niners did with George Kittle below

Interview

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