49ers’ Nick Bosa is good to go, but it’s wait and see on George Kittle vs. Steelers

49ers’ Nick Bosa is good to go, but it’s wait and see on George Kittle vs. Steelers

SANTA CLARA — Don’t be surprised if Nick Bosa plays extensively Sunday when the 49ers open the regular season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The status of tight end George Kittle (groin) is more of a mystery. Kittle and cornerback Charvarius Ward (heel), were the only players listed as questionable, although Kittle’s availability seems more in question than that of Ward.

Bosa, after a workout of course, squeezed in a brief interview session with reporters Friday before the 49ers’ charter departed for Pittsburgh. He expects few limitations after signing a five-year contract extension which pays a reported $34 million per season, the most ever for a non-quarterback.

“I’m confident,” Bosa said. “I’m not sure what Kyle’s plan is. But I’d be up for a normal workload, for sure. But I haven’t talked to him yet.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan wasn’t about to divulge a plan to the media, but has been pretty clear in inferring during the week with the local media as well as on KNBR-680 that Bosa will play plenty.

“He looks exactly how we expected him to look,” Shanahan said. “He looks in real good shape. Looks ready to go.”

With unimaginable wealth having been attained, Bosa believes being unconcerned with future financial security will only enhance his play.

“It’s going to be a weight off my shoulders and I’ll be able to not think of the negative thoughts that come with playing this game,” Bosa said. “I can play free and play for one reason — to win games.”

Already the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year at age 25 with 18 1/2 sacks, the question becomes whether Bosa can still be an ascending player or if there will be a natural leveling off based on an already established skill set.

During the mandatory minicamp in August, defensive line coach Kris Kocurek outlined the work it takes for great players to become even greater.

“Nick’s the defensive player of the year and all that stuff but there are still things he can continuously grow and get better at,” Kocurek said. “As soon as you stop driving at getting better than you’re going to fall off and think, `Why am I not the NFL Defensive Player of the Year anymore?’ Well, there are reasons why.”

Kocurek said less talented players can take quantum leaps in terms of performance, whereas elite ones such as Bosa must work harder to make even incremental improvements to become better.

“It’s a very special individual to be just a small portion better and take the game to the next level,” Kocurek said. “Then you’re talking about guys that enter the Hall of Fame, who continually work year in and year out just to get a small portion better. And that’s where Bosa is right now.”

Bosa’s father John, a former NFL defensive end, told KNBR-680 his son is extremely self-critical in a good way.

“Sometimes I do forget that he’s 25,” John Bosa said. “But physically, and when it equates to the games, he critiques himself pretty hard and I think the great ones do that. I think he felt there were sometimes last year where he missed some opportunities and could have done better.”

Bosa said he put his trust in both agent Brian Ayrault and the 49ers to get the job done in time. Like Shanahan, Bosa was beginning to wonder if he would miss Week 1.

“You get updates. The closer it got, the more it seemed a possibility,” Bosa said. “I had trust all along, but it was definitely stressful.”

Bosa missed most of training camp in 2019 with an ankle injury but was ready for Week 1, playing 38 snaps with a sack against Tampa Bay. It was the same thing in 2021 when he was rehabbing a torn ACL which ended his 2020 season prematurely. Against Detroit in Week 1, Bosa had three tackles for loss in 51 snaps.

With that as a backdrop, seeing Bosa play extensively with just a single day of practice against Pittsburgh appears likely.

One of the happiest times for Bosa was being back with his teammates.

“It was unbelievable,” Bosa said. “I’ve been waiting for that moment, to walk in the building and see the guys. I knew they had my back. Players have each other’s back in this league because it’s a business.”

To pass the time, Bosa occasionally traded updates with Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow, close friend and former teammate at Ohio State before Burrow transferred to LSU, won the Heisman Trophy and became the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.

Not long after news broke that Bosa agreed to terms Wednesday, Burrow reached an agreement on the richest deal in NFL history — a reported five years for a maximum of $275 million with $212 million guaranteed.

Bosa and Burrow share the same agent.

“It was interesting,” Bosa said. “We’d shoot texts back and forth, ‘You almost there?,’  There were not many updates for weeks on end. Finally he sent me the eyes emoji and I knew it was time for him. It was cool.”

Bosa’s first order of business with his newfound wealth? A suitable residence.

“Definitely get a house out here, which would be a pretty big purchase in this area,” Bosa said.

Tight end George Kittle is listed as questionable with a groin injury and missed the first two games last season with the same condition. Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

Kittle or no Kittle?

The decision whether Kittle plays or not could go until Sunday. He missed the first two games of last season with a similar groin injury and then played the rest of the season, so the 49ers will likely err on the side of caution.

Shanahan confirmed Kittle had a “setback” following the last preseason game against the Chargers.

The 49ers drafted two tight ends, but third round pick Cameron Latu will be on injured reserve all season and Brayden Willis is likely behind veterans Ross Dwelley and Charlie Woerner.

“He’s a great pass game pass game tight end and he’s a great run-blocking tight end, so obviously any time you miss a great player it does change things, but you always are prepared for that when you know it can be a possibility too,” Shanahan said. “It’s better than being surprised.”

The tone on Ward, who has a heel injury, is more positive, meaning he’s likely to start along with Deommodore Lenoir. If Ward has a setback, the 49ers would go to to either Samuel Womack IV or Ambry Thomas.

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Shanahan predictably would not divulge his plans at nickel corner, where Isaiah Oliver is a the probable starter. Lenoir has seen some time there as well.

The fact that place kicker Jake Moody (quadriceps) was full participant in practice makes him the likely place kicker, although Shanahan said practice squad kicker Nick Wright is expected to make the trip.

Safety Talanoa Hufanga, who missed practice Thursday with a personal matter, was back on the field Friday.

Although wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud is not on the injury report, having recovered from surgery on a wrist fracture, Shanahan said “not sure yet” when asked McCloud would return punts and kickoffs. If not, the duty would fall to rookie seventh-round pick Ronnie Bell.