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Aaron Lynch Learned Toughness from 'Grandaddy Rocky'

Posted Aug 14, 2014

The San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker is likely to make his NFL debut in Sunday's preseason home opener versus the Denver Broncos, and he's definitely one under-the-radar player to keep an eye on.

If you’re looking for an under-the-radar player to watch on Sunday – when the San Francisco 49ers host the Denver Broncos in the first football game at Levi’s® Stadium – keep an eye on Aaron Lynch.

Actually, you can’t miss him.

Lynch will stand out for his size in his likely debut at outside linebacker in Week 2 of the preseason. The rookie is listed on our roster at 6 feet, 5 inches and 249 pounds, but he admitted that he now weighs about 25 more. 

“They have amazing chefs here,” Lynch said of his weight gain. “Coach (Jim) Harbaugh says if you want two steaks, three steaks, take them home with you.”

Lynch, by way of Notre Dame, South Florida and the fifth round of last May’s NFL Draft, will also be hard to lose on the field because he plays like he eats: ferociously.

“I’m just a dog on the field,” Lynch, an admirer of Hall of Famer Deacon Jones, told a group of reporters before Wednesday’s practice. “In order to be successful in this game, you have to have some type of dog in you. That’s just how I am. I got it from my granddaddy.

"I’m a nice person, very well-mannered, but when it comes to the football field, it’s just a little different, you know?”

After Wednesday’s session, I asked Lynch to elaborate. He told me about John “Rocky” Lynch, the "grandaddy" he called “papa.”

Lynch helped his mother, Alice, watch over his two younger siblings growing up in Florida. It was “Rocky,” immortalized by name on Lynch’s right bicep, who watched over him.

“He taught me how to box, how to fight but also how to have proper manners,” said Lynch, whose toughness is also embodied by his long goatee and dark eyes. “He was and is a special part of my life.”

Once he does hit the grass at Levi’s® Stadium, this may be Lynch’s defining characteristic. I saw it in Owings Mills, Md. when he shoved a Baltimore Ravens lineman backward during joint practices last week. (He played only special teams in the preseason opener as a precaution after rehabbing a hamstring injury.)

And I saw it again on Wednesday, when he pushed new tackle Michael Philipp onto his heels with a powerful bull-rush.

“It felt good getting the reps in practice because it was just like playing the game without the tackling,” Lynch said. “I still have a lot to learn. I think I’m on the right track. Talking the coaching, watching the vets, I still have a lot of room to grow. I’m still young – still new to the game.”

Tough, yes, but "raw" is the other word that comes to mind. Given his size and athleticism, Lynch has drawn unfair comparisons to Aldon Smith, who went from Missouri defensive end to first-round pick to All-Pro outside linebacker. Lynch said he’s trying to “mimic” Smith and another pass-rusher, veteran Ahmad Brooks.

Like Brooks, Lynch entered the NFL with some wondering whether his mental game matched his physical.

“I just came here not really to answer people’s questions but more to do what the coaches are telling me to do and fit the scheme I’m supposed to fit,” said the 21-year-old, who likened Harbaugh to his South Florida coach. “I didn’t play outside linebacker in college, but now I’m playing outside linebacker. I just have to focus on learning how to play outside linebacker, dropping into coverage at (276) pounds.”

On Wednesday, filling in for Brooks and mostly playing left outside linebacker, Lynch adeptly covered tight end Vance McDonald during 7-on-7 drills and even blanketed wide receiver Quinton Patton on one play during an 11-on-11 period.

Afterward, Lynch came off the field. He signed autographs for a select group of fans in attendance. Then, before returning to the locker room, he showed off the tattoos honoring "Rocky," who passed away when Lynch was a junior at Island Coast High School in Lee County, Fla. 

“The boxing gloves are for him, too,” Lynch said of his grandpa, pointing out the art higher on his arm. “I play like I do because of him.”


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