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49ers Notebook: George Kittle eyeing Packers start, may be joined by other two top targets

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

George Kittle really does not like to not play football. But at least when he’s on the sidelines, he’s around his teammates. For the past two weeks, that hasn’t even been the case.

Kittle sounds like he’ll play, details ‘absolutely awful’ time watching from press box

Instead, Kittle has had to watch — along with wide receivers Jalen Hurd and Shawn Poindexter — from the team’s press box. Why can’t he simply be on the sideline? The 49ers haven’t really trusted him not to hurt himself further.

“I’d steal a helmet and get out there,” Kittle joked. “No, they just don’t want me standing on it because it was a lower-body injury, so it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to stand on it for three-to-four hours to fatigue it. So, I agree with them, but I disagree with them..

“It’s just absolutely brutal. It’s absolutely awful. I would love to be down there. They said I would hurt myself if I put myself down there. I disagreed, but I understand. But yeah, I hate watching from up there. It’s great view, but I would do anything to be on the field.”

The Pro Bowl tight end said that when he suffered his knee and ankle injuries (he didn’t expand on the severity) against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9, he knew he’d be out for a while. He said he doesn’t believe his return to that game affected his timeline for return.

“I knew I was gonna definitely miss a little bit of time,” Kittle said. “Fortunately, it was two or three weeks, I don’t know yet, but like I said, doing whatever I can to get back out there. … I got an extra three quarters out of it, and I don’t think I did any impact farther. I don’t think it affected my injury further.”

The most significant development was Kittle’s return to practice on Thursday, for the first time since suffering his injury exactly three weeks ago. He and Deebo Samuel were limited and wearing blue non-contact jerseys.

He said he doesn’t know if he’ll return Sunday, but he may have tipped his hand. Initially, Kittle said his goal was to play against the Green Bay Packers, saying, “I’m going to do everything I can to be able to play on Sunday.”

While Kittle — who said he feels “a lot better” — pointed out the decision falls on head coach Kyle Shanahan and the team’s medical staff, he wasn’t great at hiding his expectations and excitement for his first career Sunday night game. He spoke like he plans to play.

“It’s awesome, you kidding me? I mean, this is what you practice [for], this is where you put all the hard work in and OTAs, the whole offseason, summer to be in big-time games, and I mean, we’re looking forward to it,” Kittle said. “This is the team that you know the last year we got big-time games taken away from us, the Sunday Night Football games. And just the fact that we get that opportunity again is really fun. I think I’ve yet to play in the Sunday night game in my career, so I’m really looking forward to that. And it’s just gonna be an absolute blast.”

Sanders and Samuel also practice

Shanahan said at the start of the week that Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders (rib), Deebo Samuel (shoulder), Joe Staley (finger fracture/dislocation), Dee Ford (hamstring), Matt Breida (ankle) and Robbie Gould (quad) would be game-time decisions. It seems that first trio is trending toward likely while the latter four are trending in the opposite direction.

As mentioned, Samuel joined Kittle with a blue non-contact jersey, and Sanders was present at practice in a jersey, though not in pads or a helmet. All three were listed as limited. With Sanders’ rib injury, it’s possible he won’t be involved in a full-contact practice for the remainder of the season, considering Shanahan said he and Kittle are two players who don’t need to practice to play on Sunday.

Other notes: Expect Ahkello Witherspoon to start, but not because Moseley has done wrong

  • Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh declined to say what the team’s plan was at defensive end should Dee Ford be unable to play. Earlier in the week, Shanahan said that the team would address the situation internally, meaning a like-for-like replacement would probably see practice squad defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga promoted. There’s also the potential of Kentavius Street coming off injured reserve or Kevin Givens being moved off practice squad, but both are viewed as interior players, meaning they’d only be promoted if Arik Armstead and/or Solomon Thomas would see an increased snap count from the edge.
  • Ahkello Witherspoon is likely to start on Sunday. Saleh explained that due to the bizarre nature of the 49ers’ schedule and their barrage of injuries, they haven’t been able to get the full-speed practices they’ve wanted to feel comfortable starting Witherspoon again. He’d be starting over Emmanuel Moseley, who Saleh said on Thursday has “proven that he’s a starter in this league.”
  • Shanahan said similarly on Wednesday that the schedule was getting back to normal and said that’s part of the necessary process to get Witherspoon back in the starting lineup. Here’s Saleh’s full answer on the 49ers’ practice situation and the implication Witherspoon would star Sunday if he gets through Friday’s practice unscathed and looking good:

“For the last, I think, three or four weeks, I can’t tell. Everything’s groundhog’s day, but we’ve had a Thursday night game, then we had like 10 days off, or not 10 days off but then we had a Monday night game and then you go through a walk-through last week. We really haven’t been able to put together a string of practices. And so, for Ahkello to have yesterday, today, got to go see the tape, tomorrow, to put in three great days of practice where it looks like he’s knocking off the rust, he looks like he’s got his feet under him and he looks like he did before he got injured. Those are the decisions that coach is looking at and I’m trying to help him out with too.”

  • Full practice report: 
    • No participation: Matt Breida, Joe Staley, Dee Ford, Robbie Gould
    • Limited participation: George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel
    • Full participation: Azeez Al-Shaair, D.J. Jones, Raheem Mostert
    • Notes: Both Jones and Mostert practiced in full for the first time this week. Jones told KNBR he expects to play Sunday.

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