It's been a quiet 2022 for 49ers star tight end George Kittle. A groin injury forced him out of the first two games, but his impact as a pass catcher hasn't been felt since his Week 3 return. Head coach Kyle Shanahan would like to change that.
Kittle in two games has just six catches for 52 yards on nine targets. Last season he had four games with nine-plus targets. While Kittle is a valuable blocker in the run game, and now in the pass game with injuries on the offensive line, Shanahan said he'd prefer to give Kittle more looks in the passing game.
"Yeah, the more Kittle is out there and healthy, the more he practices, the more he can get back in the routine," Shanahan told reporters Wednesday. "I think that stuff will take care of itself. The plays that went to him, I thought he did a good job on in the game. Kittle affects the game in so many ways, the run and the pass. We definitely want to get him the ball more, but it's something we're not that concerned about. We think it'll take care of itself as we get going."
There are a handful of factors that could be limiting Kittle's production. The injury and a lack of preseason snaps could certainly be leading to some early-season hiccups where the team doesn't want to force-feed him the ball.
He also stayed in as an extra blocker for a handful of plays against the Rams. Even when he holds a block for a moment before heading out into a route it's hard to earn targets in a quick passing game like the one the 49ers tend to employ.
It may also be a product of Shanahan's evolution as a play caller. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo thrives in the middle of the field, and defenses are going to give plenty of attention to the tight end when he's a threat in the passing game. Shanahan could be getting creative and using Kittle to pull defenders away from the middle to open things up for other playmakers.
Monday night when he was running routes there were times he was running quick outs off the line and pulling LBs away from the middle. There were also some longer-developing deep routes where he wasn't open, Garoppolo didn't throw it, or Garoppolo didn't have time to throw it.
Shanahan has never been a coach that forces the ball to his playmakers, but Kittle is too valuable to be as absent as he's been from the passing game. The 49ers offense is better when he's involved. The head coach surely knows that and it sounds like there could be a handful of plays designed specifically for the TE when they visit Carolina on Sunday.
49ers practice report: 8 players sit out 1st Week 5 practice
Story originally appeared on Niners Wire