George Kittle confident he'll return for San Francisco 49ers on Sunday

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In case there was any lingering doubt about whether San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle was going to return from his knee injury Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, he did his best to wipe it away Thursday afternoon.

Speaking to Bay Area media after going through his second full practice in as many days, Kittle made it clear that he will return from his sprained left knee on Sunday night football after a two-week hiatus.

"Any time you miss games, that's not fun," Kittle said. "You can ask anybody that's missed games the past couple weeks, but knowing that I'm gonna be healthy, I can go out there and play and not be worried about anything and just let it loose, that's all I'm looking forward to. And once you get over that hump and you know you're gonna be back and you're gonna be fine, it makes it a lot easier. So, definitely my teammates made it a lot easier, they picked me up and they got two wins. I'm just looking forward to contributing and helping the team this week."

Kittle's impending return is a welcome development for a team that has been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks. Kittle's sprained knee was one of the first of a series of injuries that left the Niners without 10 projected starters in last week's win against the New York Giants.

Kittle was injured in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals when he went up for a pass and was hit low by safety Budda Baker. Kittle finished the game but was not targeted again.

Before the Week 2 game against the New York Jets, Kittle stayed back in the Bay Area for additional rehab work. He flew to West Virginia to meet the team after it beat the Jets and then practiced on a limited basis going into last week against the Giants.

But the Niners ultimately opted to hold him out of both games, in part because of concerns about having him return on the new artificial playing surface at MetLife Stadium.

"I feel like I can always play," Kittle said. "I feel like I could have played versus the Jets but that's just me. I think a couple things went into me not playing and just the conversation with coach [Kyle] Shanahan and we just agreed it wasn't the best decision and I wasn't all the way back yet and it's a long season. I think if it would have been later in the season I would have definitely gone. But now I'm here and I get to play on Sunday night football against the Eagles and that's what I'm looking forward to."

Kittle might not be the only key member of the 49ers' offense to return Sunday night. Receiver Deebo Samuel went through another practice Thursday as he continues working back from a Jones fracture in his left foot. The 49ers opened Samuel's practice window on Wednesday and have 21 days to activate him to the 53-man roster.

Shanahan said Wednesday that he wanted to see Samuel get through a week of practice without issue before deciding whether to activate him for Sunday night. If Kittle and Samuel are able to return this week, it would be the first time the Niners have had most of their primary pass-catchers healthy since June.

"We haven't had everybody together at one time," running back Jerick McKinnon said. "There's guys here and there that were hurt ... the good thing about it is in a couple weeks we're gonna get everybody back and it's definitely going to be exciting. Teams are going to have their hands full for sure."

While Kittle and Samuel made it through another practice Thursday, the 49ers were still without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo did not practice for the second straight day this week as he continues to recover from a high right ankle sprain.

Shanahan said Wednesday that he wanted to see how Garoppolo held up through a practice at some point this week before he'd feel comfortable having him back in the lineup. If Garoppolo doesn't practice in some capacity Friday, backup Nick Mullens will start against the Eagles.