Kittle expects to return to 49ers' lineup ‘sooner than later'


All-Pro tight end George Kittle will not have the opportunity to lace up his special cleats this season, but he believes it will not be long until he is back in the 49ers’ lineup.

The NFL on Tuesday launched its annual My Cause My Cleats program with more than 1,000 players participating to bring awareness to non-profit organizations.

Kittle has not played since Week 8 due to a broken bone in his right foot. But he said he is still thrilled he had the opportunity to team up with USAA and support TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors). The organization supports military families who have lost loved ones.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to wear them just due to the injury and the day everybody wears them on. I don’t think I’ll be back before that,” Kittle told NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday. “But the fact that I got to design them and use My Cause My Cleats platform to show off TAPS and USAA and my support for military families, it was special for me.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan said he is hopeful both Kittle and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (high ankle sprain) will be available for the final couple games of the season. Both players are on injured reserve.

Kittle and Garoppolo on Wednesday will travel with their teammates to Arizona. The 49ers were forced to leave Santa Clara County after local officials tightened restrictions in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Kittle said he is encouraged with the recent improvements he has noticed with his physical condition.

“They said eight weeks; I said six,” said Kittle, who sustained the injury on Nov. 1. “And I’m excited. These last couple days have definitely progressed forward and made me very optimistic about returning to the field of play.

“When I first got hurt, my mindset was that I’ll be back. And I’m going to continue to keep that mindset because I definitely feel like I’m going to be on the field here sooner than later.”

Kittle sustained a fractured cuboid -- the bone that sits outside of the little toe -- at the end of a play on which he made a leaping 25-yard catch of a Nick Mullens pass against the Seahawks.

“All I ever really learned was that it’s the hardest bone in your foot to break, and you basically have to do it intentionally or in a car accident,” Kittle said. “So I don’t know if that means I’m unlucky or if I need to slow down every once in a while.

“The good news is it’s apparently the easiest bone to heal in your foot, and it’s definitely doing a good job of that. Thankfully, I have great trainers and great [physical therapy] guys. They’re the ones that are getting me back and healthy. And I think we’re doing a fantastic job of that so far.”

Kittle did not reveal details of his rehab regimen, but he emphasized his recent progress has given him a lot of reason to believe he will return to action before the end of the season.

“If you’d ask me that six days ago, I would’ve been a little less optimistic,” he said. “The last week has been really good for me.”

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Kittle has appeared in just six games this season. He still leads the 49ers with 37 receptions for 474 yards.

The 49ers enter the final five games of the season with a 5-6 record and in contention for a spot in the NFC playoffs. Kittle is eager to make a contribution to the 49ers' postseason push.

“I definitely miss the game of football and I miss playing with my teammates,” he said. “Because with all the new regulations and stuff, you don’t really get to hang out with anybody unless you’re on the football field. So I’m excited to be playing football again. Like I said, sooner rather than later.”

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