Why Shanahan loves Kinlaw's mentality as 49ers rookie

Javon Kinlaw

Javon Kinlaw believed he played below average in his NFL debut.

The 49ers’ first-round draft pick didn’t show up on the stat sheet much in the team’s 24-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, but he did have an impact. According to Pro Football Focus, the rookie defensive tackle had two quarterback pressures and one run stop.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said he appreciates the rookie’s high expectations.

“I love that mentality,” Shanahan said on Friday. “I want guys to always know they can do better because nobody's perfect. So, you’ve always got to think you can do better and better.”

Kinlaw didn't say much in his Thursday media session, revealing that he might never live up to his own expectations as long as he plays. The 6-foot-5, 319-pound defensive lineman relied on his size and power in college, and he has been working on fine-tuning his technique since arriving in Santa Clara.

Nick Bosa said Thursday he was encouraged by Kinlaw's improvement since the start of training camp. Shanahan sees the rookie's potential, too.

“It was his first game, it was good to get his feet wet out there,” Shanahan said. “He did some good things, but there's no doubt he can play a lot better. Not to take anything away from him last week, but we expect him to get better each week and if he doesn't expect that, then that won't happen.”

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Expectations are high for Kinlaw as DeForest Buckner's indirect replacement. The 49ers traded Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts at the beginning of the offseason, moving back one spot in the draft from the 13th overall pick they received in exchange for Buckner in order to draft Kinlaw out of South Carolina.

Nobody expected Kinlaw to immediately fill Buckner's shoes. Still, the comparison seems to weigh on the rookie's shoulders.

Kinlaw did not officially start in the 49ers' Week 1 matchup but he did play nearly 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. He also was on the field for 10 special-teams plays, indicating that the staff thinks he's capable of handling additional responsibility.

“He's got to hold himself to a high standard just like we will,” Shanahan said. “We expect him to get better each week doing that.”