SANTA CLARA -- Defensive lineman Kentavius Street spent his first three NFL training camps rehabbing from a knee injury he sustained in a pre-draft workout with the New York Giants.
Finally, he can just work on being a better football player with a clear mind.
“It’s a huge thing because injuries, especially an ACL, it can not only take a physical toll but it can take an emotional and mental toll,” Street said. “It really reaches into so many spectrums of your life. And to get over that hurdle and focus on what you love is really a peace-bringing opportunity, at least for me.
"It took me three years and I’m really savoring it.”
The 49ers invested a fourth-round draft pick in Street in 2018. He spent his rookie season on the non-football injury list. Street required another procedure in 2019, as he was limited to just three games.
Finally, he was able to get on the field for 15 games last season. He registered 11 tackles with no sacks.
“This is the first year for Street that he really hasn't had to be concerned about rehabbing or focused on injury, right?” 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “So he's at this offseason to really work his tail off, to really put together a good training camp. And he's off to a really great start. I'm excited to see how Street will do in the preseason games and moving forward.”
Street is playing exclusively on the interior of the 49ers’ defensive line in camp. He lined up next to nose tackle D.J. Jones in the team’s base defense during the first week of training camp.
“Day in and day out, you know what you're going to get,” Ryans said. “He's been consistent in the backfield disrupting run plays. Also being able to react quicker on a pass play.”
Street said he owes a lot to 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, whom he describes as a "teddy bear with spikes." Kocurek is constantly yelling -- meant for a mature audience -- as he drives his players hard on the practice field. Kocurek also has a soft side and has been ultra-supportive of Street during his journey.
“He always told me, ‘Street, you belong here. You have all the tools to be a great player in this league and on this defense," Street said of Kocurek.
Street’s physical skills never were questioned during his college days at North Carolina State, where he was known in the weight room for squats of 700 pounds.
While working with Dustin Perry, the 49ers’ strength and conditioning coach, Street has concentrated more on football movements.
“It’s not so much focusing on the weight amount anymore,” Street said. “It’s just making sure I get the full range of motion, be explosive with it, and moving fast — doing the D-line get-off, bending the edge — just being able to replicate those movements in the weight room as many times as possible as fast as possible.”
Street is healthier, stronger and more ready to make an impact than at any point since entering the NFL.
“My mindset going into each practice is to prove I belong and prove to myself that I’m the baddest man on the field,” Street said.
And how’s that going?
“I feel like I’m taking steps toward that.”