49ers on Thursday: Will Kittle break out Sunday? Plus, RB mystery continues and Joe Montana on the QB plan

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SANTA CLARA — At 5:20 p.m. Sunday, the 49ers kick off their home opener, and George Kittle can transform into his customary role as a prime-time playmaker.

That’s not to say the 49ers haven’t appreciated Kittle’s pancake blocks and helpful catches through their first two wins.

Half of his 14 career touchdowns have come in prime-time games.

“Oh, that’s cool,” Kittle said Thursday of that stat. “You’ve got to bring the juice, or you’re going to get got out there, especially at home, where we have great fans.”

The 49ers also have a coach in Kyle Shanahan who likes to show off on that national stage, and this game should be no exception with the Green Bay Packers coming again into Levi’s Stadium, where the 49ers shredded them in the 2019 season’s NFC Championship Game.

“Coach Shanahan likes to have fun under the lights,” Kittle added. “We have a lot of fun plays, always. But whenever we have prime-time games, there are little things here and there opponents might not be looking for, or stuff like that. We have a good time out there.”

Kittle is having a good time in Year 5, even if his fantasy football owners are wanting more than his eight catches for 95 yards, with no touchdowns. To his delight, the 49ers have utilized his blocking prowess more than his catch-and-run skills thus far, especially in Sunday’s 17-11 win against the Philadelphia Eagles’ tough defensive front.

“It was one of the better blocking games, and that’s saying a lot, from George,” offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said. “Lot of great finishes. He really impacted the game, whether he touches the ball or not.”

The Packers have yielded three touchdown catches to tight ends already this season. Although Green Bay won last season’s visit 34-17, the 49ers were missing a slew of starters to COVID-19 issues and injuries, the latter including Kittle.

“I’m really excited (fans’) first experience back at Levi’s is going to be a night game,” Kittle said. “They’re going to bring it, and we’re going to play at our highest level. … We miss them and we know they miss us.”

TIME FOR TREY?

Trey Sermon’s blue jersey signifies that 49ers defenders aren’t allowed to make contact with him in practice. But Sermon should be among the 49ers wearing their 1994 red throwback jerseys Sunday and he might be starting at running back, if medically cleared from last game’s concussion.

“I’ve been encouraged in terms of talking to him and he feels good, but it’s a (NFL-based concussion) protocol,” offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said. “As a coach, you have to prepare. Can’t be, ‘Oh, I thought he was going to play.’ You approach it as if he’s not going to play, that’s the worst-case scenario, then move on from there.”

It’s looking bleaker for Elijah Mitchell to make a second straight start. His shoulder injury in Sunday’s 17-11 win at Philadlephia has kept him out of practice this week. JaMycal Hasty is definitely not an option because of a high ankle sprain.

Other running back options:

— Trenton Cannon: A Baltimore Ravens outcast a week ago who had one carry and two key special-teams plays in last Sunday’s 49ers debut.

— Jacques Patrick: A supersized sub (6-foot-2, 231 pounds) who left the Bengals’ practice squad for an offense that has some similar run schemes, so he’s not at square one.

— Kerryon Johnson or, less likely, Chris Thompson from the practice squad.

As for Sermon, he sustained a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit 8 yards into his first career carry, then, after fumbling, he lay facefirst into the sod. The fumble was reversed because of the Eagles’ illegal hit on him. That carry came with only 4:30 remaining, so Sermon was still buried on the depth chart behind Mitchell and Hasty. Sermon was a healthy scratch from the season-opening win at Detroit, a surprise move mostly when considering his draft status (third round).

MONTANA ENDORSES QB PLAN

Joe Montana gave a vote of confidence to the 49ers’ two-quarterback dynamic, with Jimmy Garoppolo backed up by rookie Trey Lance. “It makes a lot of sense. They’ve got to protect the organization,” Montana said on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football.” “That’s just the way it is now with Jimmy.

“Jimmy’s had trouble staying healthy, so far. This is protection, not just for the team but the organization. To continue to win, you have to have someone able to step in and play. Obviously they weren’t happy with the backups they had.

“So this makes a lot of sense.”

Montana, a pitchman for Guinness’ partnership with Notre Dame, also was asked to reflect on what it was like in 1987 when the 49ers created the NFL’s all-time quarterback controversy by trading for Steve Young. Montana was coming off back surgery, and he recalled of that era: “They were concerned whether I was going to be able to play or how long I could stay healthy. Teams have to have a player that can come in and play, whether it’s a draft choice or going to trade for someone like Steve.”

ARMSTEAD’S STATUS

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead is battling through an adductor strain, and although he has not practiced, he’s run well on the side. He is discretely off to an impressive start this season.

True, he has no sacks, one quarterback hit and three tackles. However, Nick Bosa calls him the 49ers’ smartest defensive lineman, and Armstead has 15 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. One pressure produced a fourth-and-goal incompletion at Philadelphia.

“Armstead is a long, stout defender who can play inside and outside. He’s a stud,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told Green Bay reporters Wednesday. Armstead sacked Rodgers twice in a 2019 regular-season win and once in the NFC Championship Game two months later.

Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said of Armstead: “He’s been disruptive on the quarterback. Maybe it doesn’t show in sack production. But when affecting the quarterback, Arik’s done that, and done it at a high rate. He’s making quarterbacks make errant throws. I’m happy where Arik is.”

CORNERBACK OPTIONS

Emmanuel Moseley (knee) has practiced in limited fashion ahead of his possible season debut. Ryans wouldn’t say, however, who will start at cornerback among Moseley, Josh Norman and rookie Deommodore Lenoir. Ryans praised Norman as a “true pro, true leader,” and then said of Lenoir: “He just competed and never shied away from anybody or anything, and I love that about DeMo.”

WRONG-WAY DEEBO

Deebo Samuel told 95.7 The Game that he lined up on the wrong side of the formation Sunday on arguably the offense’s turning point: a 40-yard, catch-and-run to the 11-yard line.

“It’s one of those fun roller coasters: ‘What is he doing? Oh no! Oh yes!” McDaniel said. “What was cool about it is Deebo and Trent understood the issue, looked at the clock, and Jimmy specifically knew what was going on, knew the issue and adjusted his technique off the formation bust, didn’t blink and threw an unbelievable ball.”

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