Inside George Kittle’s home gym, 49ers offseason – Sports Illustrated
The first step for George Kittle was buying a piece of equipment that’s pretty much never associated with NFL training: the StairMaster.
He knew his wife would want it. And he wanted to take a pretty significant piece of real estate on their property over. So like any husband might make sure to pick up some White Claw before a cookout, Kittle wasn’t going to forget to cut her in on his grand plan.
“Oh my goodness, if I hadn’t gotten that StairMaster?” Kittle said on Wednesday night, laughing. “That would’ve been a tough look for me.”
Kittle got The StairMaster, and a whole lot more, in putting together what he believes is as good a home gym as any 49er has for this most unusual offseason. “I think most people are jealous of mine because mine’s definitely the prettiest, and definitely the grittiest, too,” he said. And it’s one that he basically built from scratch.
This, to be sure, is a pretty critical few months for the two-time All-Pro and the reigning NFC champions. Kittle’s established himself as the game’s best at his position and is likely on the cusp of becoming the highest-paid tight end in history; and the Niners, even as they come off a devastating loss in Super Bowl LIV, are humming operationally, with a roster that’s clearly in a championship window.
And given all that, this was going to be an important time for everyone even before everything changed in March.
So what Kittle’s put together in the small two-car garage in his Nashville home is more than just a personal workout facility. In a lot of ways, it’s a monument to how he, and the Niners, are approaching this spring—looking for an edge in a circumstance that’s made even the most routine of football things more complicated than they would’ve been otherwise.
“I think the offseason, it’s an offseason, but it’s where you can excel and where you can pass guys,” Kittle said. “It’s something I always take super serious. So the fact that I can customize my own home gym, and all the other stuff, it’s definitely been really fun for me. It’s a new playroom.”
We’re going to detail that playroom for you here today, and how it might be part of the Niners’ path back to the biggest stage in sports.
It’s time for this week’s GamePlan, and inside, we’re going to (try to) get a little creative with you guys …
• Our power rankings will rank the NFL’s new uniform sets.
• We’ll double back on Tom Brady’s fit with Bruce Arians.
• And we’ll delve into what the shutdown might mean for rookie QBs.
But we’re starting, well, in Kittle’s garage.
So if you want to know how Kittle wound up putting together the gym in short order, the first thing you need to know is that he had a head start on pretty much everyone else, football players and otherwise, even if he was starting from scratch.
Kittle quietly got married last spring, in front of family, in what he called a “courthouse wedding”—his wife briefly interrupted our call to set the record straight, and have him clarify that it was actually held in a jewelry store—with plans to have a big party for all their friends in Italy this June. And because this was the plan, the Kittles were closely keeping an eye on what was happening over there through most of February.
With the coronavirus worsening, and the reality setting in that their party would have to be postponed a year (it has been), Kittle’s mind started drifting to what this would mean for his football offseason.
Two years earlier, Kittle was looking for the ideal place to do his offseason training, and his Iowa and 49er teammate C.J. Beathard convinced him to come to his hometown, Nashville. The parents of another 2017 49er rookie, Trent Taylor, also happened to live there, so Taylor wound up joining them, too. Kittle then found a strength coach (Josh Cuthbert) and speed coach (Jeremy Holt) locally, and decided to put down roots in the area.
Soon enough, he, his wife and his folks were living in the house they bought in Nashville (Kittle’s parents take care of the house when he’s gone), and Kittle had everything he needed football-wise close by. And the thought that a pandemic that still, at that point, seemed to most Americans to be the problems of other countries could take that away pushed him to action. So he called Gym Source, and started ordering stuff.
“We were like, ‘You know what? This might not go very well,’” Kittle said. “And just the way things were going, it was gonna be inevitable, I wanted to get out in front of it. I’m pretty sure, with some of the stuff I was ordering, whether that was weight equipment or whatever, a lot of it sold out within the next two or three days.”
As for where he’d put all of it, the garage always made most sense to him, and that’s why, to prepare for all this, he had his driveway widened and extended ahead of time, before the equipment arrived. Which, in essence, amounted to creating a miniature parking lot for his family’s cars to make up for the two spots they’d lose to Kittle’s project.
From there, working with Cuthbert and the Niners’ strength coaches, he came up with a plan for what he’d need, and it started, after the StairMaster was ordered, with cardio equipment, since Kittle figured getting outside to parks or fields could be a problem.
“I knew that I wasn’t gonna be doing my running in there, I’m not a big treadmill guy anyway, I like conditioning things that my body likes,” Kittle said. “I love rowing machines and I like assault bikes because they just whoop up on you. So I just tried to get the conditioning things that would best take up space, got them in a corner on their own side.”
From there, he picked out a lat pulldown machine that also had the pulley for close-grip rows, and a squat rack, and both of those occupy corners of the space. The final corner was left open, and he’s since added dumbbells, medicine balls and kettle bells, and all of those are now neatly stacked up in that corner.
Since the garage has high ceilings, he’s dressed the place up by hanging flags from the rafters. And as he’s worked through the construction of the place, it wasn’t just teammates reaching out to ask about how he was pulling this off—it was coaches too.
“It was actually funny, right after I ordered it, one of my strength coaches asked me what I was doing to get all my stuff, because I told him I was getting a whole gym,” Kittle said. “So I gave him some information, and I’m pretty sure he gave it to the whole team so everyone could prepare for it. We had a lot of guys on the team building their own gyms, whether it was their basements, or their patios outside, some of us using our garages.
And soon enough, a competition had come about—which is why Kittle repeated, with a good amount of certainty, that his is the “prettiest” among all the Niner home setups.
“Oh, it’s got the most character to it,” he said. “I got the nice rubber floors. We keep it clean. We treat like it’s our real gym. It’s fun, too. Our whole family gets to use it. We had to put everything together. And mine’s 100% used for a gym—other people have other things in it. And we’re adding mirrors to it too, because you gotta flex a little bit.”
Over time, what was once a temporary fix will now become a fixture. Kittle says it’s “100%” staying as part of the house when all of this is over. So the cars will remain parked without cover. And as fun as building the gym has been, deep down, Kittle sees real benefit that he and his teammates have gotten from all of that.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Kittle has watched the Super Bowl, to be clear. He’s not avoiding it, like some have in the past, in the wake of a loss like that. But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy on him to relive the Niners’ 21-10 fourth quarter lead melting away.
“The more you watch it, the more it sucks,” Kittle said. “I will say that. It’s not like a dark cloud following me around. It is what it is, it happened. You gotta move on. I don’t know if I’ll use the loss as motivation, but there’s definitely a hunger there. I think that resonates with a lot of guys. I just wanna play football again.”
And as Kittle has seen, growing into a leader on the team, that’s a sentiment that’s common among the Niners. He, of course, gets to see it close—he and Beathard do their field work on a friend’s farm in the Nashville area. But he’s also seen it with the rest of his teammates, through the team’s virtual offseason program.
That’s where the idea of getting an edge comes in again for Kittle, as it did in the construction of the home gym. He looks at the physical break the Niners get, having lost five weeks of rest that 20 teams got during the Super Bowl run, as a positive. He likes how the Niners are recording their virtual meetings, so he can review them. And he loves what he’s seeing in how all the players are taking care of one another.
“Losing the Super Bowl, it’s awful, I don’t wish that on anyone, unless I’m playing them, but I think it definitely was a teaching moment,” Kittle said. “Guys are definitely very hungry, we want to go back and win that one. Guys are definitely holding themselves accountable. Our coaches have done a great job staying in touch with guys, all our strength coaches, our nutritionists, our dietician, our trainers reach out to all the guys all the time to make sure they have everything they need.
“And I think guys have really responded well to it. As a leader on the team, I check in on my guys, I know the tight ends are doing really well, I know our offensive guys are doing well. And we have a lot of hungry guys on defense that are training as hard as they possibly can. I think our team’s gonna come back really well from this. Like I said, I’m just ready to play football again.”
When they’ll be able to, no one knows. But for now, Kittle’s clearly doing what he can on what’s a pretty different, but still level, playing field.
The good news is, now that he’s had time to work through some kinks from late February until now, his routine is, really, his routine. It starts at 8:30 a.m. every morning with yoga (his sister’s his instructor, which is another convenience he now enjoys), followed by 90 minutes of lifting at 9:30, two hours of meetings starting at 11, speed/agility drills on the farm from 1:30-3 p.m., and route and JUGGS work after that.
And while that setting might be different, he sure sounds confident that results won’t be.
“I’ve been treating it like it’s my normal offseason program,” he said. “Obviously I can’t work out with all my friends. But I’ve been able to do my training at as high a level as if everything was normal.”
Which, really, a few months ago, was as much about finding answers quickly in a situation that offered few certainties. And, of course, getting that StairMaster ordered.
With the Rams’ new uniforms out, here’s my very official ranking of the new sets that have been introduced this spring.
1) Los Angeles Chargers: This was easy. Great, classic, minimalist look that highlights all the things we’ve seen out of the team uniform-wise over the years. And the video they made to introduce them was fantastically defiant—to the point where I think that defiance should be the brand they try to sell out there. So maybe there is hope for them in L.A.
2) Cleveland Browns: This was more of a correction than anything else, and a very well-done correction. The Browns 100% got it right in going back, all the way this time, to their classic look, and fixing the mistake they made five years ago.
3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Another correction, and this one was fine. Nothing crazy about it, but a better look than the alarm-clock numbers they were running around in the last six years.
4) Los Angeles Rams: I’ll be honest, when I first looked at them, I thought they were bad. Over the course of the day, they got better. The helmet’s nice, and the “bone” off-whites aren’t bad. My problem, I figured out, was the numbers, both because of the USFL font and the gradient color on the blue jerseys. Otherwise, these are fine. But to me, this didn’t have to be complicated. Going back to the old unis, either of the Roman Gabriel or Eric Dickerson eras, would’ve won everyone over.
5) Atlanta Falcons: Maybe they’ll look better when they actually wear them.
I didn’t include the Colts or Patriots because those were really just updates. I like the former going old school with the numbers on the jersey. On the latter, it really was just a switch to their color rush uniforms, which are sort of a version of what they were already wearing—though I’d say the road look is a slight improvement over the old ones.
THE BIG QUESTION
Why don’t the Bucs just run Tom Brady’s offense?
It’s a fair question, and one that was raised by The Athletic’s Bob Kravitz to Bucs quarterbacks coach Clyde Christiansen. And a poignant one given who was being quoted here, given that Christensen coached Peyton Manning in Indy, right up until he departed for Denver. And I think Christensen’s answer was honest.
“You’re right, Peyton took his playbook and his way of doing things and when he looked at possible destinations in free agency, one of his priorities was to find a place where he could keep things the same,” Christensen said. “I’m sure there were some little changes, but for the most part, it was the vernacular he was used to. I think what we’ll see here [in Tampa] is Bruce’s offense with a Brady influence. Bruce wants to keep the offense the same. We did some good things last year.
“Tom has been terrific as far as saying, ‘Just tell me what you want to do.’ And honestly, there’s a lot of carryover from all these offenses; it’s just what you call certain things. We’re looking forward to seeing how he can influence the offense. He’ll make it better. That’s what the great ones do. He’ll have some great ideas so we’re anxious to get his take on things.”
So there are a couple things to tack on to this, which I think will explain why Arians is doing it this way.
First, Arians’s belief is that Brady can make every throw necessary to play in his offense, even if that offense has long skewed towards big, downfield-throwing quarterbacks, which isn’t really what Brady is. The plan has been to streamline the scheme to what Brady likes. And the belief is that there’ll be elements that’ll be good for him—one example would be receivers running through zones, rather than sitting down on them, which could turn short throws from 12 into big plays.
Second, really, there was no importing the Patriot offense, as Brady was running it, anywhere else. Over the years, it had become so specific to him, and the people around him, and would take so long for others to master (which is why so many young players struggled in it), that it never made sense to try and force that on an entire new group (Manning’s Indy offense was not like that).
And that was something Arians sold Brady on even before he officially signed—why not make one proficient, experienced learner take on the burden of having to pick up a new scheme, rather than forcing another one on a group that may not have Brady’s aptitude for the game, and definitely lacked his time on task?
It makes sense, if you think about it. So Brady, indeed, will be the one adjusting, and as time goes on the offense will be molded to what he’s always done best.
Bob Rosato for Sports Illustrated
WHAT NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT
How quarterback competitions may need to happen fast in the summer. And that could affect whether or not rookies play at the position—a topic we broached with Hue Jackson, who was Raiders head coach during through the 2011 lockout, on the podcast this week. I broached it with him because I felt like that summer would be the one most applicable to what’s ahead now, and how rookie QBs were handled that year can be instructive in 2020.
Two of the six taken in the first 40 picks, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, started in Week 1. Cincinnati didn’t screw around much, with Dalton starting every preseason game, ahead of the opener. Newton, meanwhile, didn’t start until the third preseason game, and wasn’t named starter for the opener until after the final preseason game, but was working with the first team through the balance of camp, as he competed with Jimmy Clausen to start.
As for the others, the Jaguars turned to Blaine Gabbert in Week 3, the Vikings went to Christian Ponder in Week 7, and the Titans and Niners redshirted Jake Locker and Colin Kaepernick (Locker is the last first-round quarterback to fail to start a game as rookie).
Long-term, the rocky entry into the league didn’t kill that class of quarterbacks—half of those six hit, which is a pretty normal rate. But in the short-term, getting Dalton and Newton a ton of work in camp was very important to having them ready to play, and both played really well as rookies, while Gabbert and Ponder struggled.
The takeaway, then, to me would be that the Bengals, Dolphins, and Chargers have to enter camp with an idea of whether or not Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert are going to play. If the expectation is that they will, then good—get them in with the first team early and get them a lot of work. If it’s not, then that’s fine too, but I’d say this is a year when you’d have to be willing to carry out an actual redshirt (which, as we said, rarely happens with first-round quarterbacks anymore).
And having a coherent plan may be even more important this year than it was then. In 2011, coaches were grappling with the elimination of two-a-days and the reduction in number of padded camp practices allowable to 28, under that year’s CBA. Well, the newest CBA further restricts work—now, only 16 padded practices are permitted in camp, and teams have to work three-day weekends into the schedule—which puts every snap a rookie quarterback takes before the season at even more of a premium than before.
THE FINAL WORD
Tomorrow is the deadline for teams to get their plans to re-open their facilities to non-player employees to the league. So even as a bunch of states with NFL teams remain shut down, we could have some news on the league ramping up some business pretty soon.
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