At 6-foot-6, 304 pounds, Lawrence Okoye was easy to find on the first day of 49ers rookie minicamp.
The former British discuss record-holder and Olympic finalist made his football debut on Friday and the biggest man on the field garnered the most attention. Okoye mistakingly called it the "pitch" in his afternoon media session, but quickly corrected himself. Nonetheless, Okoye provided an interesing storyline for the first day of rookie camp.
On a day where first-round pick Eric Reid showed off his impressive ball-hawking skills at free safety, offensive draft picks Garrett Celek and Quinton Patton displayed impressive play-making ability, plus undrafted quarterback Nate Montana attended the minicamp session on a tryout basis, Okoye's introduction to professional football was the most unique aspect of the day.
Jim Harbaugh, however, didn't look at Okoye's debut any differently than the other rookies and tryout attendees at the 2013 camp.
"Everybody is starting with their first step," the 49ers coach said of the British Olympian who signed as an undrafted free agent with the 49ers. "He's right in there... And all of us, we've all got a long road ahead, tough road to hoe. But, we've got to be patient along the way and it starts with the first day."
Okoye's first day featured a morning walk-through, special teams meetings and then his first football practice in the NFL. Okoye worked extensively on his footwork, stance and technique with respected defensive line coach Jim Tomsula during individual drills.
General manager Trent Baalke and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio also watched closely as Okoye worked on his fundamentals along with the other rookie defensive linemen.
Okoye, the largest man of the group, appeared to be picking up the detailed instruction from Tomsula. With each rep, the 49ers line coach would be outspoken in his encouragement. At one point, Okoye had trouble squirting water through his helmet during a break in the action. But much like his drill work, Okoye figured out how to spray water through an opening in his face-mask.
"I'm not worrying when I get things wrong because I'm going to get a lot of things wrong, more than today, more than tomorrow," Okoye said before his first practice with the 49ers. "Even when I get reasonably good I'm going to get things wrong."
Okoye lined up as a defensive tackle when the rookies ran a handful of plays during 11-on-11 work.
Later, the Olympic athlete turned football player ran down the field during special teams work and showed impressive speed for a man of his size. He reached the kick returner at the same time as a rookie linebacker.
The morning work allowed Okoye to get even more comfortable with his surroundings. It showed in the afternoon. For someone who was lining up at his first football practice, Okoye demonstrated why the 49ers saw untapped potential in the Olympic athlete.
"I'm just trying to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible," Okoye said. "They're doing great with me. They're not trying to force-feed me. They're giving me the little snippets I need for today. Tomorrow, I'll get more snippets I need for tomorrow. So I'm going to take each day as it comes."
Friday Practice Notes
Tulsa cornerback Lowell Rose recorded the first interception of the 2013 offseason, intercepting a pass thrown by seventh-round pick B.J. Daniels.
Anthony Davis came out to watch his older brother, Andre Davis' tryout with the 49ers. Andre Davis played on the defensive line at Kentucky Christian, but lined up at right tackle for the tryout.
During 1-on-1 drills, Reid, the first-round safety, had tight coverage on a skinny post ran by converted quarterback turned halfback, MarQueis Gray. Reid showed excellent hip turn and closing speed to not allow the reception.
Darryl Morris, an undrafted cornerback out of Texas State, intercepted Montana during 1-on-1 work.
McDonald caught deep in-route from Daniels, Reid had the coverage in 1-on-1 drills.
Patton did a nice job showing burst and quick feet during kick returns. The Louisiana Tech wideout made several receptions on the day and looked even faster as a return man. On one occasion, he beat a pair of defenders to the right sideline and outran them for a big gain. Daniels later joined the group of kick returners.
At the end of practice, McDonald practiced long snapping behind Kevin McDermott, who went undrafted out of UCLA.