Programming note: For comprehensive 49ers coverage from Santa Clara, tune in to SportsNet Central tonight at 6, 10:30 and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
SANTA CLARA – Lawrence Okoye has made such a significant improvement in one year, he would rather not turn the clock back to last year’s training camp.
“It’s crazy, really,” Okoye said on Sunday. “I can’t watch last year’s tape. It’s just too hard to watch. I cringe too much. Now, I feel like a football player and it’s time to just keep progressing.”
The film was impressive Saturday on the first day the 49ers put on pads for a practice. In a one-on-one pass-rush drill early in practice, Okoye bull-rushed tackle Jonathan Martin, sending the third-year player flailing backward as if he were on roller skates.
There was never any question Okoye, the former rugby player and British Olympic discus finalist, had the physical attributes to succeed in football. And, now, his technique looks a lot better after a year of work under defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
“He’s really playing with a lot better pad level, playing lower and the bull rush right now is a real strength for him,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “And he’ll learn counters to that, but he’s a very strong man with very long arms. He also had another collision with Joe Staley and gave Joe everything he could handle. It’s good to see that kind of competition.”
Okoye spent his rookie season on injured reserve after sustaining a knee injury in the 49ers’ final exhibition game. He remained in the Bay Area for most of the offseason to train and study all aspects of the sport.
Saturday was significant for Okoye to put on the pads again and take his development to another level.
“It’s been a long, long journey for me,” he said. “I haven’t been in pads since August 2013. So it was a big occasion to get back in pads again. There’s nothing better than going against Joe Staley and Mike Iupati every day. That’s probably the best left side in the whole league. So I’m feeling great about everything.”