Tight ends Kittle, Kelce have different styles, same domination
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Tight ends Kittle, Kelce have different styles, same domination

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. - After each Chiefs game, 49ers tight end George Kittle gets a special delivery: Game tape of his counterpart in Kansas City, Travis Kelce.

"I get his games every single week so I can watch what he does because he's definitely one of the best in the game at what he does," Kittle said. "Receiving, just finding open spots."

Kelce led all tight ends with 1,229 receiving yards this season, but was edged out on the AP's All-Pro team by a vote of 33-17 by Kittle, who crossed the 1,000-yard threshold with a seven-catch, 86-yard game in Week 17 against the Seahawks.

The veteran Chiefs tight end may have superior numbers, but even he admits that Kittle is a unique talent at the position.

"Just about everybody in the world thinks the world of George Kittle," Kelce told reporters in Kansas City this week. "He's an unbelievable person, unbelievable amount of energy. How he plays the game with a tenacity, it's one of a kind. It's special."

Super Bowl LIV will feature elite talents all over the field, but the matchup of tight ends will showcase how the position has evolved through the years.

The last time the 49ers won the Super Bowl, four-time Pro Bowl tight end Brent Jones finished the regular season with 49 receptions and 670 yards. Jones is considered one of the best to play the position in franchise history, but his numbers pale in comparison to Kittle who set the NFL receiving record for tight ends in 2018 when he amassed 1,377 yards on 88 catches.

There's no question Kittle has developed as a route runner since entering the league, but Kelce says the third-year 49ers starter has developed into one of the all-around best because of what he's able to do after making the catch.

"I do believe the run after catch is something that I've been able to have a knack for since I've been in the league and obviously since Kittle's been in the league, he's taken that to a whole 'nother level," Kelce said.

Despite leading the 49ers in receiving yards in each of the last two seasons, it's possible Kittle's greatest impact still comes when he's used as a blocker. The 49ers have enjoyed back-to-back 17-point playoff wins thanks to an unstoppable rushing attack that's keyed in part by Kittle, who is widely regarded as the best blocking tight end in the league.

His willingness to set the tone in the run game for a physical 49ers' offense is something that comes naturally to Kittle, who grew up playing for his father, Bruce, a former offensive lineman at Iowa.

"The two things that I hammered into him, be great in the locker room, be a great teammate, and the other thing is, it's still all about run blocking," Bruce Kittle said. "So when he's the highest-ranked Pro Football Focus, not just tight end but player and his run grades are that high, to me, that's where you win."

During his youth, Kittle's favorite players were quarterback Brett Favre, tight end Dallas Clark and linebacker Brian Urlacher. He took to the trio for the joy they brought to the field and he's said he tries to channel the same type of energy as a run blocker.

"If you put in the dirty work, if you do what you're asked on every single play whether it's pass or run, the rest for us takes care of itself," Kittle said. "Whether it's yards, touchdowns, catches, if you just do what you're supposed to do, you're eventually going to get the ball."

Their styles may differ on the field as Kelce is more of a consistent threat in the pass game while Kittle is more of a weapon when his team runs, but they tend to share more similarities than differences.

"We both love life," Kelce said. "With that comes a lot of responsibility in the tight end room to not just be a one-dimensional player, but to be almost a utility guy in the locker room."

Not every team in the NFL has a star tight end, but two that do landed in the Super Bowl.

Visit The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com

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