George Kittle gave the San Francisco 49ers a scare back in Week 1 of the preseason. The team's top receiving tight end went down with an injury during the starting offense's lone drive of the game. Kittle was running deep down the middle of the field and laid out for a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo. After landing a bit awkwardly, a Dallas Cowboys defensive back rolled over the top of the tight end.
Kittle jogged back to the sideline while holding his right arm. All things considered, he came out OK with just a separated shoulder. It cost Kittle the rest of training camp and the preseason, but now he's back to full strength ahead of the 49ers Week 1 road game against the Minnesota Vikings.
"I'm healthy," Kittle said confidently. "I'm ready to roll, baby."
The tight end has been back at practice since last Tuesday but has been participating in full since (at least) Monday. Kittle has looked just fine running routes and catching passes during the open portion of practices this week.
"The first two practices being back I was feeling my way through it," Kittle said. "They have gone well, now it's just trying to make up the reps that I lost when I was hurt and head into Sunday strong."
The best news is that according to Kittle, he's not thinking about the shoulder at all while he's on the field. Kittle is still wearing some sort of wrap/brace on the shoulder, but it sounds like that's just precautionary rather than something he'll have to manage all season.
"I'm not worried about it at all actually" Kittle said. "I've done a really good job with the training staff. They're really confident in the progress that I've made. It's something that's not really bothering me which is nice."
Kittle enters the season as a co-starter at tight end along with Garrett Celek. There's no question that Kittle is the 49ers supreme receiving option at the position. He caught 43 passes for 515 yards and two touchdowns while battling through an ankle sprain for most of the season. Kittle's best performance came in Week 17 against the Los Angeles Rams when he caught four passes for 100 yards.
Health permitting, Kittle could be in line for a breakout campaign in 2018. He's a popular target of Garoppolo, and he has a chance to be San Francisco's top red-zone option.
"My expectations are to take advantage of all the opportunities that Coach Shanahan gives to me when he calls my number," Kittle said. "I want to make all of those plays consistently throughout the year."
Kyle Shanahan has a knack for getting his tight ends in open space. Robert Saleh recently called it a "nightmare" to cover tight ends in Shanahan's offense.
"He puts us in places to succeed," Kittle said. "He's not going to put us out wide and make us run 15-yard ins and stuff like that. The routes that he does let us run are against coverages that put us in an advantage against the defense. It makes our jobs a little bit easier."
The 49ers face a tall task on Sunday against the Vikings vaunted defense, which makes it even more valuable that they'll have a healthy Kittle in the lineup.