Olympian Okoye much further behind than other 49ers rookies

Harbaugh's adopted mantra: 'I will die leaning on my staff'

Olympian Okoye much further behind than other 49ers rookies
June 13, 2013, 7:45 am
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Lawrence Okoye a 6-foot-6 British discus thrower had never played football before signing with the 49ers two months ago. (AP IMAGES)

SANTA CLARA -- Rookie defensive lineman Lawrence Okoye certainly ranks as one of the better athletes on the 49ers. After all, he qualified for the Olympics last summer as a British discus thrower.

But even Okoye's unique athleticism and strength mean very little as it relates to attempting to play in the NFL.

Okoye's football career is less than two months old. And it's becoming apparent just how the odds are stacked against Okoye's attempt to play American football.

[RELATED: Okoye makes 'pitch' to stick with 49ers]

"You just kind of wonder what the jump would be from Year 1 to Year 2 for him," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said this week. "And I hope that he continues to show up, listen, work extremely hard, and show enough that we'll be able to go from Year 1 to Year 2."

After three short follow-up questions, Harbaugh was ready to move onto another topic.

"I think that's probably enough ground covered there on Lawrence," Harbaugh said.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio put it into perspective exactly how much catch-up Okoye is playing after receiving a modest $3,000 signing bonus as an undrafted free agent.

"He's like all these rookies here expect he's never played football before," Fangio said. "So magnify it to that degree. He's got a lot to learn. Not just learn. Guys play peewee football, high school football, college football for a reason. And he hasn't. So he'll have a lot to learn. But I don't think we'll get a true picture of him for a while."

Okoye is listed at 6-foot-6, 304 pounds. His height creates some leverage problems for a defensive lineman. He also has rare quickness for a man his size. But it has rarely been on display during practices because all the new concepts and techniques that have seemingly overwhelmed him.

"You see some potential, yes," Fangio said. "But, still, it's a game that you have to know how to play. And it's going to be a matter of how quickly he learns how to play."

Things will only get more difficult for Okoye, a former rugby player who has never worn football pads in a practice or played in a game. The offseason drills are non-contact. The pads go on and hitting is allowed during training camp, which begins in late-July.

"He hasn't had anybody hit him, yet," Fangio said. "He hasn't had a double-team, yet. He hasn't figured out if it's a run or pass, whether he should rush or play the run. So it'll probably be a very slow process with him much more than a normal rookie."