George Kittle Talks Tight End U, Building A Brotherhood At The Position, And Who Can Drink The Most Beer

George Kittle has established himself as one of the NFL’s best and most complete tight ends, helping the San Francisco 49ers offense in any way he can. Kittle is an elite receiver, with three 1,000 yard receiving seasons as a pro, including the 2023 campaign, but takes just as much pride in his blocking as he does running routes.

Being able to do it all is why Kittle loves the tight end position, and he wants to give tight ends across the league the tools to succeed. That’s why Kittle, along with Greg Olsen and Travis Kelce, launched Tight End U back in 2018, which has become an annual event bringing in tight ends from across the league, from stars to guys fighting for roster spots, to let them refine their technique, learn from the best, and also unwind a bit before the season starts.

Ahead of the 2024 edition in Nashville, we caught up with Kittle on behalf of Bud Light — who are throwing the fellas a pool party and concert for this year’s Tight End U — to discuss his offseason, wanting to build a brotherhood at the tight end position, why it was important to give tight ends a place to get better, his favorite young tight ends, and a power ranking of the guys that’ll put back the most Bud Lights at the pool party.

How’s the offseason been and now getting into mini camp and all that, how are you feeling as you get ready for another season here?

Offseason’s been really fun. I’ve been able to do enough to kind of get away, let the body recover, rest, let the mind recover, but at the same time have been able to keep on with the training, rehab, all the stuff I’ve been doing to get ready for another football season. Being back in the Bay for a month was really fun, just to see new teammates and old teammates. It’s kind of crazy, cause I feel like this is one of the newer teams I’ve ever been on with the San Francisco 49ers besides like, my first two years. Like, we have an entirely new defensive line, at least that’s what it seems like besides about three guys. We just kind of have new faces all over and guys that are gonna have to have big roles, but after meeting them and having conversations with them, they seem like great guys and I’m glad that we have them on our team.

Besides that, you know, the summer is always a time of, it’s the last 40 days before the season starts. And then it becomes another seven months of like just a grind. And so it’s how much time do I want to keep my mind at ease or what’s my anxiety level of trying to train and be the tip-top shape for training camp. So it’s always a fun, interesting balance that my wife makes fun of me for, but I’ll figure it out at some point.

Part of that is Tight End U, and how did this come about? And why is this something that you still want to make sure is something you’re doing and putting your effort into, as you note, in this time of year where time is precious for you?

Tight End U really, it came about because I moved to Nashville back in 2018. And Nashville is like a booming place where a lot of NFL football players live, because it’s got a very mild weather in the winter, no state income tax, guys really like being able to buy big properties down here. And so, after one of my seasons, I asked Greg Olsen to come down when he was retiring and he was like, ‘Hey, let’s make it a bit of a thing. We’ll get Travis [Kelce] involved, and we’ll start inviting guys.’ And it went from we thought we’re gonna have 15 to 20 guys to we had 50 guys the first year, we’ve had years of 85 and I think this year we’re around the 70 mark.

And just really, the reason we wanted to do it was we wanted to bring guys in to increase the brotherhood of tight end position. Because I think when you think about the tight end position, it’s not like me and Travis Kelce ever really like play against each other. Like, we’re going against each other’s defenses, right? So, you know, and I always root for all the tight ends across the league, except for when they’re playing my team. I think that goes for everybody. But it’s really fun to bring everybody together. Now you have like young guys who, they’re not shy to meet Travis Kelce, they’re not shy to talk to Greg Olsen, David Njoku, Evan Engram, like they feel comfortable going out and talking to these guys.

And that’s a big part of it, I just want everyone feel comfortable talking to each other, making them feel like they know everybody across the league. And then also it’s really fun to when you get to go up there to get to listen to Gronk talk about his yards after catch with the highlight tape. To hear Jordan Reed, who’s one of the best release guys, like one of the best receiving tight ends ever, to hear him talk about his thought process and his releases and then go out into a field and then do those releases. So you feel like you’re adding things to your arsenal. But the same time, when you hear like Travis talk about why he’s running routes and a certain way he’s doing it, it’s giving you an idea of his thinking, so halfway through the season when you’re watching Travis’s film about like, hey, they played the Giants and I play ’em, I have to breakdown this film. Hey, now I have a decent understanding about why he ran the route the way that he did, instead of just sitting there trying to guess.

I think that’s a really cool part too, you’re just understanding the way guys think. Or, I think the best thing is, you bring all these guys together and we always do a panel of like all the vets who’ve been in the league for longer than eight years — anywhere from Travis Kelce guys to guys who have grinded about six teams in eight years. And I think that’s really cool and it just kind of tells young guys, like these are the things I did well, these things that did bad, but I’m still in the league and I’m still grinding.

The tight end position, it’s such a unique spot because you’re tasked with doing so many things and each team is going to ask you to do different things. And how important is that to give young guys that idea of the breadth of the position and the things you’ll be asked to do. One offense might be more receiving, one offense might be more blocking, downfield, short stuff, and bringing everybody together and letting them see kind of the world outside of their locker room and their system. How important is that to developing those skills?

I always say the tight end position, in my opinion, is the most fun because it’s the only position where you actually get to do everything. I get to run routes, catch the ball, score touchdowns. I get to run block defensive ends. I get to do gap scheme with my offensive tackles, rollout linebackers. I get to pass pro $150 million rush ends, which is really fun for me. And like I’ve had reverses in the past, I got to run the ball and Trey Burton threw a touchdown in the Super Bowl. So like tight ends actually gonna try everything. You see Kelce throwing the ball randomly from time to time even on plays aren’t called for him to throw it.

So tight ends get to do everything, which is really fun, and what I want is I want all these young tight ends is to realize that because you play tight end, you get all these opportunities, I want them to have confidence in everything that a tight end does. So when their coach calls them and says like, ‘Hey, you have to pass pro, and if this guy blitzes, you have to pick up the defensive end by yourself.’ I want him to have an understanding of like, okay, I learned at Tight End U this year, I’m gonna keep my head on the inside shoulder, let them win upfield, don’t lunge, keep my head out of it, and like try to run him by. And I’m going to try to give guys tips, so they’re not just in the dark there.

And one thing too is I think at the tight end position, there’s a lot of great tight end coaches in the league, but I think that there’s not a lot of great tight end coaches in college. So I think a lot of young guys don’t really pick up on all the tips that you need to learn. Now I was very lucky when I got the NFL I had a tight end coach, John Embry, who coached Tony Gonzalez and he coached some Buccaneers Pro Bowl tight ends, so he’s had a really solid string of Pro Bowl tight ends. And he kind of taught me the foundation of being an NFL tight end as opposed to what I was in college, and helped me learn a lot. So I just try to pass on some of those tips to all the young guys.

This year you’ve got a partner in Bud Light who’s gonna help you have a little fun off the field as well, how did that come together and how excited are you to give the guys a little pool party so they can wind down a bit as well?

One thing I love about tight ends is that we’re all pretty easygoing, and a thing I really love about Bud Light is their goal is just to make everything really easy and enjoyable. Whether it’s a backyard pool party, whether it’s a country concert, whether you’re just hanging out with your friends, I really enjoy that about Bud Light. And you know, they’ve been a partner since day one of Tight End U since we first started it four years ago. They’ve been a partner of mine since 2020, and so just it’s really fun to be able to partner with somebody who also sticks around for the entire thing. So that’s been really fun. We’re really looking forward to the backyard pool party. We got a DJ, let guys let loose a little bit. Let ’em have some fun out there in a pool in this Nashville heat and humidity. It’ll be good for the boys a little bit, I’ll tell you that much.

Power ranking, who’s gonna put down the most Bud Lights at the pool party?

That’s a great question. I think it’s going to be a toss up between me and Goedert. Dallas Goedert’s an absolute stallion. He’s one of my favorites. And so that’s my goal. It’s going to be me and him, and then maybe I get my guy [Robert] Tonyan in on that a little bit. He needs some encouragement once in a while, but I think I can get him going.

What’s the advice that you really hope guys can take away from Tight End U beyond just the specifics of the on field craft, but the thing you really want the young guys who come in to take away from the experience?

Well, like I said, I was really lucky. I had an awesome [tight ends] room when I was a rookie, right? I had a vet tight ends coach who was super old school, we’re gonna work our tails off, I’m gonna make it as simple as possible, and I’m gonna try to give you all the tips that you can use on your tool belt, like your Batman [belt] that you can use in a game. But then I also had to vet tight ends in that room between Garrett Celek, who was an eight year guy, and Logan Paulsen, who was like a 10 year guy. Both long tenured tight ends who were known not for receiving stuff, but their reliability and stuff like that.

So I learned how to build this great foundation and if I can just pass on like 10 percent of that information that I was given to these young guys and it sticks at all, I just want to give these guys the confidence in themselves to go out there and earn a roster spot. Because like Tight End U’s not about — like, I love having the big name guys here is great, but if I can like make an impact on one practice squad guy last year and it gives him, like, ‘This gives me a little bit more confidence, I have a little bit more understanding.’ And now he can go out there and make a roster spot, like that’s that’s what Tight End U is about. And so it’s just about giving these guys more tools in their tool belt where they can go back to training camp in 40 days and be like, this is what I learned, this I’m gonna use, these the techniques I’m going to use, and just give them another opportunity to win.

Lastly, is there any guy that stands out as a young guy in the league that you particularly like watching that’s come up recently at the tight end spot?

I think the obvious choice is Sam LaPorta there. He’s an Iowa guy. He had almost 1,000 yards this year, 10 touchdowns, like just an absolute freak. He’s in an offense where he’s featured a ton and Jared Goff does such a good job of all those bootlegs, play action stuff, and hitting tight ends over the middle. But besides LaPorta, I think my guy Michael Mayer out with the Raiders. I think he had a year of learning and he played good football, you know, he made some good plays, but a lot of it was just learning how to be an NFL football player. And I think he’s going to take a huge step forward this year, especially now that added Brock Bowers and like, I don’t think that’s going to take away necessarily from many of his targets, but I think it’s going to just open up their offense. So now you have two really good tight ends and Davante [Adams] on the outside and they still got good running backs. I think that offense is going to be able to take a step forward. I think you’re gonna see Michael Mayer take some good steps.