SANTA CLARA -- It’s taking a little time for 49ers rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw to adjust to the speed of the NFL, but that’s normal according to his defensive coordinator.
At 6-foot-5 and 319 pounds, the 49ers' first-round draft pick previously had been able to rely on his sheer size and strength to overpower offensive linemen. Once a man amongst boys, Kinlaw is now learning to adjust to a much higher level of technique and speed.
49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh believes there’s no need to worry. Kinlaw’s learning curve is normal, especially when facing an offense like Kyle Shanahan’s.
“He’s getting his feet under him,” Saleh said. “I think he’s trying to find his way. I think our offense is a S.O.B. to go against on a day-in and day-out basis with how fast and how physical they are.
"I think it is a shock to a rookie defensive lineman when they come in here.”
In his last two seasons at South Carolina, Kinlaw racked up 10 sacks. He also had 82 career tackles, 42 of them were solo.
Now the rookie is facing the likes of Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson and Mike McGlinchey, some of the most skilled offensive linemen in the league. Kinlaw is no longer able to use brute strength alone to get to the quarterback, but the rookie is improving.
When the team started 1-on-1 drills between linemen a few practices ago, Kinlaw was often seen offsides prior to the snap. The only way for him to beat his competition seemed to be by getting a head start. That gradually has been happening less and less.
The South Carolina product has begun “winning” his matchups in drills and on the field. Saleh believes the small things will make the biggest difference. As long as he does the homework, the defensive lineman will be able to make an impact on the field.
“It's more technique, fundamentals, strain, tenacity, all of it comes all into fruition and the intangibles are what wins football games for these professionals,” Saleh said. “He’s made a small improvement every single day so the focus for him is to get better and hit the ground running come Week 1.”
Saleh’s goal is to help the giant rookie get even more power and leverage out of each rush. If they succeed, another effective weapon will have been added to the depth of the defensive line.