The 49ers created a buzz when the 2013 NFL Draft concluded as they signed British discus thrower Lawrence Okoye as an undrafted free agent last year. At the time, everyone talked about his athleticism for a 300-pound athlete who participated in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
For the 2013 season, he spent OTAs, minicamp and training camp with the team, including only eight snaps in the preseason before going on the injured reserve to be stashed for the future.
Fast forward one year later and the question arises of what will he do with a full year under his belt of learning the NFL game? He is a defensive end, which is one of the most stacked positions on the 49ers. Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Tank Carradine are all players with experience in football who are guaranteed to be in front of him on the depth chart. Quinton Dial, Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams and Mike Purcell are all nose tackles with Dial and Dorsey being capable of playing both positions.
This leaves possibility of playing on special teams as a core player to join C.J. Spillman, Bubba Ventrone and Kassim Osgood. When Jim Harbaugh was asked about it during minicamp, it appears he won’t be able to make the team through that route.
“He’s got to make it as a position player and that’s what he’s trying to get done,” Harbaugh said at minicamp. “He’s doing a goob job. We talked about it last week. We have been really pleased with all of our defensive lineman doing everything that we ask. And there is great competition there, there’s great talent there and there’s been great effort there throughout the offseason. And we want that to continue into the preseason and in those games, and the competition will rage. It’s a position of strength for us.”
The odds of Okoye making the 53-man roster as a defensive end are near impossible with this statement. He is still an impressive athlete at 6-5, 304 pounds who can still be a long term project with coaching, but it appears his ceiling is being one of eight practice squad members at best.
When practicing through drills, Okoye’s speed for his size and strength stand out among 49ers players. He has also been seen throwing a medicine ball the farthest distance of anyone.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio initially said he was raw and had to learn the game of football in 2013, but he admitted there was progress in 2014.
“[Okoye is] just understanding the game [and] keeping his pads down,” Fangio said at minicamp. “There aren’t many guys, if you guys did any research, there aren’t many 6’5” or taller guys that are good defensive players. There’s some. But, there’s not a lot. They’ve got to be able to bend their knees and play low, and use their height to their advantage when they can. But, they’ve got to bend their knees and get them down to 6’2” when they need to. So, he’s going to have to play the game lower and use his natural ability that he does have. He’s an extremely strong guy. He can run. But, we’ll see how he pans out.”