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Star TE George Kittle set to return for 49ers

NFL Dallas

The injury-plagued San Francisco 49ers will be getting star tight end George Kittle back for this week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Coach Kyle Shanahan says Kittle will be activated off injured reserve before Saturday’s game and see his first action since breaking his foot Nov. 1 against Seattle.

”I’m feeling really good,” Kittle said Thursday. ”I’m excited to be back on the field. I miss football. Sitting out for six weeks is not very fun. I’m expecting to play football on Saturday.”

Kittle is one of several key players to miss significant time for San Francisco (5-9) this season, derailing the team’s chances of making it back to the playoffs after making the Super Bowl last season.

Kittle, an All-Pro in 2019, missed two games early this season with a knee injury and then six more after breaking his foot against the Seahawks. But even with the Niners eliminated from playoff contention, Kittle wanted to return for the final two games.

”We wouldn’t put him out at all if there was any risk of reinjuring this or he wasn’t healed,” Shanahan said. ”But we’ve got a lot of guys going out there and everyone’s got stuff on the line every time they step out, whether you have two games left and you’re not in the playoffs or whether it’s the first game of the year. That’s what these guys do and if they’re healthy enough to do it, that’s what you do on our team.”

The Niners plan to ease Kittle back in and not play him at his usual heavy load.

Kittle was cleared last week but the Niners were cautious and waited to bring him back. He said it was hard to stay in shape because coronavirus protocols prevented him from using indoor machines and he couldn’t start running again until a few weeks ago.

”Really the only way you can get in shape to play football is actually play football,” he said. ”As much as you practice, as many gassers as you want to run … you’re really not in shape to actually play the game. So I’m probably going to use the oxygen a lot on the sideline. So don’t judge me for that, guys.”

The Niners head into Saturday’s game with third-stringer C.J. Beathard starting at quarterback for the first time since 2018. Starter Jimmy Garoppolo and backup Nick Mullens are out with injuries.

San Francisco also will be without leading rusher Raheem Mostert and No. 1 receiver Deebo Samuel as part of a long run of injuries this season.

Kittle set the NFL record for yards receiving for a tight end in 2018 with 1,377 and followed that up with another big season last year when he had 85 catches for 1,053 yards in 14 games to make All-Pro and lead the team to the Super Bowl.

Kittle has 37 catches for 474 yards and two TDs in six games this season. His biggest performance came in a Week 4 loss to Philadelphia when he had 15 catches for 183 yards.

NOTES: CB Richard Sherman (calf) and S Jimmie Ward (concussion) are out this week. … DE Dion Jordan (knee) is doubtful. … C Hroniss Grasu (knee), DT Javon Kinlaw (knee), S Tarvarius Moore (knee) and CB Emmanuel Moseley (hamstring) are all questionable. … The Niners signed former Dolphins practice squad WR Matt Cole to a two-year contract.

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