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Okoye: Small Steps for Big Man

Posted Aug 11, 2013

The goal for rookie defensive tackle Lawrence Okoye is to become better than a "bad football player."

Six plays into his NFL career, Lawrence Okoye is a bad football player. These are his words. These are Jim Harbaugh’s words.

Now the goal for the 49ers defensive tackle, who is going from Great Britain’s discus record-holder to gridiron neophyte, is to become better than bad. After seeing his first action during the Denver Broncos’ final offensive series of Thursday night’s preseason opener at Candlestick Park, Okoye was happy that he didn’t look out of place in the way he may have the first weeks of training camp.

“My coach is obviously playing it safe,” Okoye, 21, said of Jim Tomsula. “That’s appropriate the way he handled it. I enjoyed the time I spent on the field. I'm going to keep building from here, small steps every week.

“We've got a lot more to do and a lot of progress to make… Hopefully, by this time next year, I'll be in a good spot.”

The Englishman's first choice would be to crack a coveted spot on San Francisco’s regular-season roster, which already boasts defensive tackles Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, whom Okoye called “the best in the business.”

More likely, Okoye’s progress will be graded upon each camp cut. By rule, team rosters around the league are cut to 75 players on Aug. 27 and 53 on Sept. 1. The 49ers will begin filling their eight-man practice squad, in part with camp casualties, on the same day.

The three intervening weeks may not seem like a lot of time, but each day is significant for Okoye. It’s obvious while watching practice that he needs the most instruction – and that he wants it.

This desire should be on display Friday in Kansas City, where the 49ers will visit the Chiefs for their second exhibition game.

“Next week, I'll get some more snaps and hopefully I'll get some chances to rush the passer and show everyone what I can do,” said Okoye, who will also be seeking his first tackle, another milestone for a 6-foot-6, 304-pound beginner. “These small steps are appropriate for where I'm at, and I'm enjoying the whole process.”



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