For as complicated as football can be, at its core it’s very simple. Blocking, hitting, tackling. And in an age of limited blocking, hitting, and tackling during practice, there’s a premium to be placed on players who can and will embrace blocking, hitting, and tackling during games.
The 49ers have players who can and will do the dirty work in games, without complaint. On Friday, coach Kyle Shanahan singled out both tight end George Kittle and cornerback Richard Sherman for praise in this regard.
“It starts, any time one of your best players, who everyone, I mean, he had more yards in the pass game as a tight end in the history of the NFL last year,” Shanahan said when asked about Kittle’s influence on the team’s run-heavy-of-late offense. “So, any time you have a guy like that who’s one of the best players on your team who’s always just talking about running the ball and playing the physicality in the game and giving everything you can, it helps you hold everyone else a lot more accountable, and rarely do you have to. When people are watching guys like that do that type of stuff, when they watch guys like Sherm play the run and things like that, it makes your job a lot more easier. When your best guys are doing it, everyone else really doesn’t have much of a choice.”
The dynamic underscores the value of not collecting players but building a team. Every NFL team needs high-quality players who will do what is expected without being told it’s expected. It then becomes expected that other players will do the same. In Kittle, the 49ers particularly found a guy who has a love for the nitty-gritty details of the sport.
“It’s more just the beat of my own drum,” Kittle told reporters on Friday. “If you put in the dirty work and do what you’re asked on every single play whether it’s pass or run, the rest takes care of itself. Whether it’s yards, catches, touchdowns, whatever it is, if you just do what you’re supposed to do, you’re eventually going to get the ball and it will take care of itself.”
Sherman has added value, thanks to his experience on championship teams.
“He’s helped us the most by how he’s played,” Shanahan said of Sherman, “but also having a guy that’s been there and done that, especially having a young team, and when you have a guy who guys have grown up watching a little bit, especially over these last seven years, and being in big games like this and even starting out the year 8-0, going through that and having guys who have been through that and kind of been at the top of the league halfway through and being able to rely on some players who can help echo how tough it’s going to be to keep that going. Any time you have guys with experience who have been through it who are also one of your better players, it helps a ton.”
Kittle and Sherman are two of the reasons why the 49ers are back in the Super Bowl, and as long as they’re on the team they’ll influence teammates to behave the same way, inspiring more leaders and creating a culture of self-starters who allow Shanahan and the coaching staff to focus on things other than getting the players in the right frame of mind to do their jobs.
And if a franchise can pull that off over a long enough period of time, it becomes the Patriots.