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Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

‘Go punch it in the face’: 49ers rookie Javon Kinlaw deals with adversity like any other opponent

Sep 17, 2020 at 3:56 PM--

By now, you've probably seen NFL Media analyst Brian Baldinger's breakdown of what he saw on Sunday from San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. While the rookie didn't come away with impressive statistics from his NFL debut, what he did on the field was enough to impress Baldy.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spoke with reporters after Thursday's practice and acknowledged the lack of statistics by Kinlaw. He finished the game with just one tackle in the loss to the Arizona Cardinals. But Saleh, like Baldinger, saw some good things out of his rookie's performance.

"We were very pleased with JK and how he performed," Saleh said. "I know it doesn't show up on the stat sheet, but he played with a tremendous amount of violence. He made a couple of plays in there that didn't show up on the stat sheet that there aren't many humans that can do what he did.

"He had two fantastic pass rushes. The quarterback obviously got rid of the ball pretty quick, so it goes unnoticed, but he won clean."

Kinlaw was a bit harsher while evaluating his Week 1 performance. Much of that has to do with the high expectations he sets for himself.

"I'll probably never [reach my expectations] my whole career," Kinlaw said on Thursday. "That's just how I am on myself."

Kinlaw graded his performance against the Cardinals as "below average." His goal, for now, is to continue improving. The defensive lineman was asked if he has a favorite play from his NFL debut, but he doesn't really look at games that way.

"It's not really a play for me," Kinlaw responded. "For me, it's about how violent can I play? How aggressive can I be? Can I impose my will on the guy in front of me? And I felt like a couple of opportunities, I did that, and a couple of times, I didn't. I've just got to clean that up and work on being more physical all the time."

Kinlaw's teammate along the defensive line, Nick Bosa, wasn't as hard on Kinlaw as the rookie was on himself. In fact, Bosa knows Kinlaw's best is yet to come.

"I've seen substantial improvements from the beginning of camp until now," Bosa said of Kinlaw. "All the technique stuff is starting to come to him, and now he can just start playing with his ability, which is scary. ... I'd say it's super encouraging how he played in the first game. You could just see a lot of the stuff that he was doing was just natural ability and just reacting on instincts, which is something you don't teach.

"Obviously, he's got to learn a few things and just learn how to use his God (given) gifts. But for him to go out and make a couple of plays right off the bat there against a really tough team to make plays against, it's super encouraging. He's probably at 50 percent of his potential, just to give you an idea.

"That's not to say that he doesn't have technique or anything, but once he really gets the hang of it, and figures out what he can do, then I think he can really be a great player."

As a rookie in a pandemic-stricken year, Kinlaw didn't have the opportunities this offseason most would in a typical year. His first on-field practice didn't even come until August.

How does Kinlaw deal with adversity, like Sunday's loss, when it stares him down?

"Go punch it in the face," he responded. "That's how I deal with adversity. Go punch it straight in the mouth."

That's certainly a strong response. Saleh and the rest of the coaching staff are excited about Kinlaw's potential and feel his ceiling is high. The rookie hasn't even begun to scratch the surface.

"We're very excited for him," Saleh said. "He just needs to continue to find ways to get better and not get caught up on stats. It's about putting your best foot forward every single play and trusting that the results will come. When people see tape, they know what's happening."

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