It will take much more than half a season before Javon Kinlaw is no longer compared to DeForest Buckner.
In the 49ers' 27-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints, Kinlaw logged his first career NFL sack. Filling Buckner's shoes is a tall order for the rookie, who appears to have even higher expectations for himself.
In his rookie season with the 49ers, Buckner logged six sacks, three of them by Week 10. Kinlaw has never spoken about the comparison and when previously asked about his lack of sacks, he seemed unconcerned and simply focused on improving.
Ravaged by injuries, the defensive line had been unable to pressure opposing quarterbacks until their visit to New Orleans. Kinlaw’s contributions included, the defense racked up three sacks and four quarterback hits.
“I feel like we had an opportunity from the jump,” Kinlaw said after the loss. “A couple little things here and there. I feel like as defense as a whole we played very aggressive today, very assertive. We went out there and established dominance.”
Fellow defensive lineman Kerry Hyder has been impressed with the rookie’s development. The veteran pass rusher expects to see more improvement from Kinlaw as he gets more game experience.
“In the game, he’s an aggressive guy,” Hyder said. “The sky is the limit for him. I’m just really happy for him today, he was able to get on the board with one. I just know each week he’s been getting better and better and it’s going to get scary for people.”
While the 49ers didn’t leave New Orleans with a win, the defense did have some success. They held the Saints to only two third-down conversions on 12 attempts and limited them to their worst yardage output (273) of the season.
The defense seemed to come onto the field with a little added energy, maybe slightly more rested after the mini-bye. Kinlaw noticed the difference but explained that their approach to games has been the same all season.
“That’s our identity every game, every day, establish a physical presence from the get-go,” Kinlaw said. “Today was just one of them days.
“I feel like all season the plays have been there, but sometimes I’m just a step off. I feel like everything was firing today, making plays when it counted. Just going to try to keep it rolling.”
The 49ers hope to get back a few key players after the bye, namely Richard Sherman, who has been out since suffering a calf injury in Week 1. San Francisco's defense has been shorthanded all season long, but as evidenced by Kinlaw, there's still plenty of talent around.