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Lawrence Okoye Impresses in Pads

Posted Jul 28, 2013

Lawrence Okoye couldn’t help but repeatedly use the word “excited” when he spoke to the media on Sunday.


Lawrence Okoye couldn’t help but repeatedly use the word “excited” when he spoke to the media on Sunday.

The British Olympian, who is making his American football debut with the 49ers this offseason, used the word numerous times when discussing his early development in the NFL.

When the talk of using pads came up, the 6-foot-6, 304-pound British discus record-holder seemed to be even more pleased to talk about his time with the 49ers.

[ PHOTOS - TRAINING CAMP: JULY 28 ]


That’s because Okoye has made noticeable strides during his time with the 49ers. The undrafted rookie defensive lineman has been mentored extensively by veterans on the defensive line and has been instructed on every last detail of his position from respected line coach Jim Tomsula.

“I’m really enjoying how things are going and I’m really happy to be here,” Okoye said. “I’ve got great guys I’m working with and it makes a world of a difference. I don’t know how I’d be if I were somewhere else.

“I think they’re giving me the best opportunity to make something of this, so I’m really enjoying it.”

Okoye had his introduction to football pads at pre-training camp sessions for the team’s rookies, but was able to showcase his power against the veterans for the first time on Saturday.

It caught the eye of Jim Harbaugh, too.

“It was good,” the 49ers coach said of Okoye’s efforts in the trenches. “He was a little bit nervous before practice, being in unchartered waters.”

Harbaugh applauded Okoye for getting in all of his pads “in all the right slots,” something the 49ers coach failed to do as pee-wee player for the Ann Arbor Junior Packers.

More important than the equipment was what Okoye did in team periods.

“The most noticeable thing was he seems to be a better player in pads,” Harbaugh said. “His arm-length really shows up in pads. Being able to put his hands on somebody and lock them out was really noticeable.”

Aldon Smith, San Francisco’s long-armed sack leader, had a feeling Okoye’s Olympic background would translate to success when the pads came out.

“I wasn’t really curious,” the third-year outside linebacker said. “I know a guy like him is an Olympian and is really strong, when he puts the pads on I think strength is going to show and show the way he plays. He did a good job.”

Smith said he is helping Okoye whenever he sees something to point out. The biggest point of emphasis from Smith is to play lower to the ground.

“It’s something he’s going to have to learn, how to drop his hips and sink down, but it’ll come to him,” Smith explained. “This is first year playing football so every day he’ll continue to get better and improve.”

Okoye seemed to improve during one-on-one pass-rushing drills.

The competitor who finished 12th in the discus at the 2012 Olympics, was stonewalled by right tackle Kenny Wiggins on his first attempt rushing from the left defensive end position.

Okoye mistimed his get-off on his second attempt and jumped offsides on his second rep, but figured out how to beat Wiggins on the third go-around.

Okoye saw Wiggins overplay the outside, so the rookie beat him inside with a quick darting move.

“That’s just feel,” Okoye explained. “I’ve got to use the physical abilities I’ve got, use my length, use my power, my strength and my speed to feel what a lineman gives me.

“If he gives me the inside, I take the inside.”

Okoye hasn’t been over-thinking on the football field; he’s been reacting to how he’s being blocked.

Now that pads are on, Okoye is learning how to channel the aggressive side of football. He knows he’s competing against teammates, but also understands that tempers flare when contact takes place.

“It’s going to come out as training camp goes on and as we get into the preseason games,” Okoye said.

Until the time comes for Okoye to face opposition from team’s on the 49ers preseason schedule, he’ll continue to study the techniques of the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart and take in all the wisdom he can from his position coach.

Watching Justin Smith has been very beneficial for Okoye’s progress, too.

“Justin is truly such a good player,” the rookie said. “You see how difficult it is for the offensive line to deal with him in every situation. He is a seasoned vet, there are some things were he’s on step Z and I’m on step B.”

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