49ers Rookie Kittle Shines in Crowded Tight End Competition

No other first-year player is getting more snaps with the first unit than the former Iowa standout

It certainly hasn’t taken long for George Kittle to make a strong impression on the 49ers.

The former Iowa standout tight end, selected in the fifth round by the 49ers in the recent NFL draft, received more playing time with the first unit than any other rookie at this week’s mandatory, three-day, full-squad minicamp.

And, as the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows wrote, Kittle was one of quarterback Brian Hoyer’s favorite targets.

Kittle came from Iowa with a reputation as both a solid blocker and receiver, which is helping him in what should be a competitive battle to earn playing time. Also in the tight end rotation are veterans Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, Logan Paulsen and undrafted free agent Cole Hikutini.

The past two seasons at Iowa, Kittle, a 6-foot-4, 247-pounder, had 42 catches for 604 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Hoyer told Barrows that Kittle is a fundamentally strong receiver.

“He has a really good football awareness, is what I would call it,” Hoyer told Barrows. “A feel for where to break, how to break, read zones. I’ve been surprised and, obviously, it’s a good thing for us to have a guy who has that football awareness and some feel of the game.”

In one practice session this week, Kittle had two touchdown catches in red-zone drills. On another day, he caught a touchdown pass on a long route on a play-action pass from Hoyer.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan says Kittle has been impressive.

“George is coming (and) really battling,” Shanahan told the media. “He’s competed in the run and the pass game. George is a guy you can tell he is going for it, because the way he competes on the field. … Mainly, what he does off the field, too. He’s really trying to learn it and that’s given him a chance to show up a little bit.”

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