Despite starting in 12 games in 2020, this year is still a first for Javon Kinlaw.
Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which thwarted much of the NFL's preparations for the regular season, part of the 2020 season was a challenge for many. For first-year players, the lack of in-person instruction was a hindrance to their adjustment into the NFL.
Instead of the standard acclimation period for rookies following the draft, meetings were forced to be held virtually. There weren't any accustomed on-field preparations such as rookie minicamp or OTAs. That, coupled with a cancelled preseason gave players zero opportunities to fine tune their techniques on a professional level, and ultimately, put a number of players at a disadvantage.
This year is the first time Kinlaw and several other players will undergo a full offseason program. The defensive lineman, along with nearly every healthy player on the 49ers roster was on hand as the team kicked off Phase Two of the voluntary offseason program last week.
New defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has already seen the benefits of the 49ers in-person OTAs. He believes Kinlaw is a player who will become a prime beneficiary of the team's series of sessions, especially as he looks to define himself in Year 2.
"Kinlaw is looking awesome. I think it's really vital for him to really have these OTAs," Ryans said. "Kinlaw is able to really hone in and focus on his techniques, which he missed coming in as a rookie. OTAs are very, very important. And for him to miss that time last year, he's got to take a huge jump this year."
Kinlaw showed flashes of his potential through his rookie campaign. Although he may not have boasted the gaudy stats, he still managed 33 tackles, three for loss, 1.5 sacks, 19 quarterback pressures, including four quarterback hits, four passes defended, an interception and a defensive touchdown in Year 1. His four quarterback hits were tied for fourth among rookie interior defensive linemen.
Kinlaw recognized early that his pass-rush repertoire was an area for improvement and the offseason program should help polish his toolbox. With the ability to tweak his fundamentals this spring, several of Kinlaw's teammates also believe the pass rusher has the power, talent and size to be in line to take significant strides in Year 2.
"He's huge," outside linebacker Samson Ebukam said. "He's a monster. But I feel like he's definitely going to have an All-Pro year, the way that he's going right now because I'm seeing him – he's running all the way to the ball, and he looks in phenomenal shape. So, I'm excited to see what he can do. I think he's going to be great."
This time around, Kinlaw takes on a full year of development and a true offseason program. He knows he's still a work in progress, but he's already given his teammates and the coaches plenty of reasons to believe he has the right tools (and mindset) to develop into a vital piece of the 49ers defense.
"We're able to slow things down and really emphasize footwork, hand placement, technique, eyes, and he's been doing an awesome job," Ryans added. "I can already see how much better he's gotten in the couple of weeks that we've been together."