49ers star George Kittle returns to practice, but is itching to return for real

Kimberley A. MartinSenior NFL writer

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The suite life felt like torture to George Kittle.

Knee and ankle injuries have made him feel more like a caged animal than the unstoppable force he’s been known to be on the football field. And the San Francisco 49ers tight end is itching to unleash the beast that resides within as he inches closer to gameday.

“It’s just absolutely brutal,” Kittle said Thursday after returning to practice for the first time since getting injured on Halloween. “It’s absolutely awful. I’d love to be down there. They said I would hurt myself if I put myself down there. I disagreed, but I understand. I hate watching from up there. It’s a great view, but I would do anything to be on the field.”

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“I’d steal a helmet,” he half-joked. 

Kittle watched helplessly from a luxury suite as the 49ers’ unbeaten streak was snapped by the Seattle Seahawks in a Week 10 overtime loss. He again was a sideline spectator last week, watching his teammates pull off a 16-point comeback against Arizona.

49ers tight end George Kittle (85) is tackled short of the goal line by Arizona Cardinals safety Deionte Thompson (35) on Halloween night in Glendale, Arizona. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
49ers tight end George Kittle (85) is tackled short of the goal line by Arizona Cardinals safety Deionte Thompson (35) on Halloween night in Glendale, Arizona. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

But the gauntlet now begins: a critical three-game stretch that begins Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers (8-2) and ends with two road games against Baltimore (8-2) and New Orleans (8-2). And while Kittle still has to be cleared by the team’s medical staff, his presence at practice, wearing a blue, non-contact jersey as he ran routes, was a welcome sign for the 49ers (9-1).

Last year, the team blew a seven-point, fourth-quarter lead at Lambeau Field and lost 33-30 to the Packers. This time, much more is on the line for San Francisco, a team eyeing the NFC West crown and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

“It’s definitely a massive game. It’s one I don’t want to miss,” Kittle said.

Pressed on his health, the tight end wouldn’t divulge specifics about the extent of either injury. Asked which ailment, the knee or ankle, was more significant, Kittle smiled and simply replied, “Yes.”

His face, however, lit up when discussing the prospect of playing the Packers in prime time. 

“It’s awesome, are you kidding me?” Kittle said. “This is what you practice for, this is what you put all the hard work in at OTAs and all summer, to be in big-time games. We’re looking forward to it. 

“Last year, we got big-time games taken away from us, the Sunday Night Football games. Just the fact that we get that opportunity again is really fun. I think I have yet to play in a Sunday night game in my career, so I’m really looking forward to that. It’s just going to be an absolute blast.”

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