How Saleh is learning to gain trust with Kinlaw's instincts


49ers' defensive coordinator Robert Saleh does not want Javon Kinlaw in coverage but likes what he's seen from the rookie's instincts.

Kinlaw made the biggest play of his young NFL career in Week 12, but it was not necessarily the path Saleh would like the defensive lineman to follow. 

The 49ers' 2019 first-round pick has started to show the potential of what he is capable of on the field. Kinlaw has recorded 1.5 sacks and a pick-six in his last two games alone. Saleh has been complimentary of the rookie’s development when asked, but the two are still working on building “trust.” 

Saleh doesn’t want his players to be robots and only follow his defensive scheme to the letter. Saleh trusts All-Pro Richard Sherman’s instincts to play off-plan but when it comes to a rookie, the coach is a little more hesitant. 

“There is a fine line where you never want players to be robots,” Saleh said. “The one example I'll give was Sherm. Richard Sherman was in man coverage on his interception, but he has the wherewithal and he felt he was in such good position and he knew what route he was getting.


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“He was able to play with vision, which is a very, very hard thing to do in man coverage, to be able to play with vision back to the quarterback. So, he knew the route, he knew the play, so he was able to stay disciplined.” 


Kinlaw clearly has much less experience than the veteran cornerback but the rookie has still been able to make plays due to his off-schedule play. Saleh was adamant that dropping into coverage will not be part of the defensive lineman’s responsibility in the future. 

“Javon, right now, I'm a little hesitant to trust the instincts part, but he's proving over and over and over again that he's right,” Saleh said. “So, New Orleans, disrupting the screen. He's getting his hands on balls at the D-Line level. He bounced off and we do have to press him. 

“We don't want him being in the low plugger in a pass rush situation ever, but there's just certain things the kid feels and he doesn't know why he's feeling it, he just ends up in a spot and more often than not, he's right.” 

Kinlaw has been correct in staying true to his instincts but Saleh wants the rookie's primary focus to always be to rush the opposing quarterback, even when things work out as big plays for the defense. 

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“I'm not going to say that we're encouraging it from him,” Saleh said. “We’re trying to figure out exactly what he's seeing and he's building trust, but we always challenge those guys to do more than what the play is asking you to do. 

“If they feel something, they feel something, and it'll be hard for them to articulate, but great ones have a different type of feel to the game and understanding. He's got to continue proving it to us, but right now we want him to go vertical and go get the quarterback."