The 49ers had hoped to ease in first-round draft pick Javon Kinlaw, but that plan went out the window when Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas both suffered season-ending ACL injuries in Week 2.
Since then, the No. 14 overall pick has started both 49ers games, and he played a career-high 76 percent of the defensive snaps last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I don't know if we've had to really ask Kinlaw to do more," 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh told reporters Thursday. "I think he's just earning it, to be honest with you. When you watch him play, he's getting better every single week."
Kinlaw is expected to develop into an elite player. That's why the 49ers drafted him with the pick they received from the Indianapolis Colts in the DeForest Buckner trade.
But Saleh said Kinlaw has several specific things he needs to work on before he reaches his potential.
"He's going to be a dynamic football player in this league as soon as he starts really understanding the techniques and fundamentals and starts picking up on the NFL game and the way it's played," Saleh said. "He does things that are instinctively freakish that you just can't teach. The more he sees it, the more reps he gets, the better he's going to be.
"He's just got a good knack for football, and as soon as he gets into a groove and he really starts to understand this game, he's going to take off. And it's going to be very, very disruptive."
RELATED: Kinlaw always plays angry
Through the first four games of his NFL career, Kinlaw has nine combined tackles and two passes defensed. As the season goes on, expect Kinlaw to see more playing time and start to pile up the stats.
For now, though, Saleh and the 49ers are happy with Kinlaw's progress.
"We love the direction he's going in," Saleh said. "We love his mindset, his work ethic, his attention to detail, and so as the season progresses, he's going to earn whatever, just like every other player on this team, your playing time is what you've earned. He's doing a really nice job so far this year.”