DeForest Buckner left big shoes to fill for the 49ers.
Javon Kinlaw ultimately was drafted using the pick that San Francisco received from the Indianapolis Colts in the trade for the Pro Bowl defensive tackle. While the rookie has yet to record his first NFL sack, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is still pleased with what he has seen from the South Carolina product.
Saleh has noticed the rookie’s diligence and work ethic. While Kinlaw isn’t on pace to match Buckner’s rookie stats, Saleh believes there has been a normal level of development from the first-year NFL defensive lineman.
“He’s progressing like I would expect a rookie to progress,” Saleh said on Thursday. “He is grinding through every wall that you can possibly grind through. We feel like he's done a really nice job in the run game.
“Obviously he still has a ways to go to improve and all that stuff, but he's just got to continue to get better. It's not always going to be clean, especially at this stage.”
Through Week 7, Kinlaw has recorded 15 total tackles and one quarterback hit, but Saleh explained that the rookie’s effect on the game doesn't always show up on the stat sheet.
In Buckner’s rookie season, he recorded six sacks, 18 quarterback hits, 73 total tackles, seven of which were for a loss. The Oregon product also had one pass breakup and two fumble recoveries.
Saleh believes it’s only a matter of time before Kinlaw shows what he’s capable of on the field. The learning curve he’s seen from the rookie has been promising.
“He's learning something new every single game,” Saleh said. “It was a couple of games ago, he had some opportunities in pass rush and a couple of them, we talked about it and he knew exactly what happened. He’s like, ‘Man, I wish I would have,’ but that all comes with time and experience.
“What's encouraging about him is he's recognizing when he could have done better on a play and you're not seeing the same mistake twice. When they're able to recognize it on the fly like that and make a self in-game adjustment, you know that those players have a chance to be very special.”
Kinlaw himself has said that he has been focusing on improving his techniques and the team getting wins rather than his own personal statistics. He is confident that the sacks will come and Saleh has the same confidence in the first-round pick’s future.
“He's going to be a good one,” Saleh said. “You can mark my words on that one.”