SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The last time San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle played 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 kept him on the sidelines for the first two weeks of this season could not 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 good to go,” Shanahan said. “I thought he got better each day. He means a ton in both [the run and pass game]. Kittle has been one of our better players here over the years when he’s out there. We’ve got to get him back into football shape just because he hasn’t played in a little bit but he helps us in every facet.”
Kittle made it through the practice week without any issues, participating in the first two sessions on a limited basis and going full Friday. He has no injury designation on the Friday injury report.
“I’m pretty happy,” Kittle said Thursday. “Just had a breath of fresh air, honestly. It feels great to be back on the football field with the boys. I love our performance staff. They do a fantastic job of getting us back together but I’d be OK with not really. seeing them for the rest of the season. So, just really happy to be back out there catching the football, actually getting to put pads on, hit people.”
Kittle initially suffered the groin injury Sept. 5, a “bonus” practice the Niners had before the season opener against the Chicago Bears. He did not play that week or last week against the Seattle Seahawks, although he did participate in practice Sept. 16 for the first time.
Having Kittle back means Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will have his full complement of pass catchers in his first start of the season after stepping in for 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, on Dec. 9, 2018.
In a 20-14 San Francisco win, Kittle posted seven catches for 210 yards and a touchdown. All 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 by a tight end in a game (214).
Regardless of opponent, Kittle is clearly excited to be back on the field, noting he’s been “a little itchy” to return.
“But that’s what Sunday Night Football is for,” Kittle said. “Just get to go out there and let it all out there. It will be fun.”
One 49er who might not be joining Kittle on the field Sunday night is defensive lineman Arik Armstead. Armstead is dealing with a foot injury and although Shanahan said Wednesday he expected him to be “all right,” his status is up in the air. Armstead is officially listed as questionable but did not practice this week.