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Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

What 49ers coach Kris Kocurek said about Drake Jackson, Javon Hargrave, Javon Kinlaw

Jun 2, 2023 at 9:26 AM

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Drake Jackson looks better prepared for his sophomore NFL season, both physically and mentally. The San Francisco 49ers defensive end spoke with reporters this week, and reports of his added bulk were visually confirmed. He estimates he has gained about 13 pounds since last season, and the work continues.

His defensive line coach, Kris Kocurek, believes the added weight and better preparation will help Jackson last through the rigors of an NFL season. The coach has seen "significant strength gain" in his young defender.

Jackson was inactive for six of the 49ers' final eight games last season, including each of the team's three playoff contests. Being forced to watch from the sidelines was eye-opening.

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"Growing up, he was one of the best AAU players out there," Kocurek shared on Thursday. "Five-star recruit, goes to USC; one of the better players there. I seriously doubt that he ever got told that he wasn't good enough to be on the field. So he's probably always been on the field.

"And then towards the end of [last season], when strength levels kind of went down, and he got deactivated, I'm sure it was a humbling experience for him. He took it the right way. But the NFL is a humbling game, and if you haven't been humbled yet, you better be looking around the corner because it's coming sooner or later."

This offseason, the humbled Jackson returned to the 49ers facilities long before players were required to do so.

"He hasn't missed a day," Kocurek said. "He's stacked one on top of the next and really transitioned his body into going into a season to be able to withstand the rigors of a 17-game schedule, hopefully going into the playoffs, playing deep into the playoffs. And he set himself up to be successful with the work that he's done day in and day out.

"It can't just be a one-day deal, show up, work hard for a day and skip three. He's been consistent with his approach to it, and it's showing with what he's done with his body, not only the weight that he's gained, the good weight that he's gained. It's one thing to go to McDonald's and eat five cheeseburgers a day and put on some pounds like I've done in the past. [It's another to] get in the weight room and put good nutrition in your body and put on lean muscle and eliminate as much of the fat that you have on your body.

"He's done a fantastic job while still being able to maintain the explosive nature and abilities that he has in his body from a speed aspect."

The 49ers made Jackson a second-round pick in 2022, hoping to one day bookend him with the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Nick Bosa. Jackson produced three sacks in his 15 game appearances but never took on a prominent role within the league's top-ranked defense.

Kocurek and the 49ers knew Jackson wasn't a finished product. They knew there was a need for development if the young defensive end was to reach his potential.

"We knew that [he] was probably going to take the biggest jump going from year two, even going into year three," Kocurek admits. "We should see substantial strides in this game if he puts in the work and he's willing to put into work to get it done ... He's in a much better place right now than he was a year ago, to be ready to go and be the player that we drafted in the second round."

Javon Hargrave

The 49ers made an unexpected free-agency splash this offseason, signing former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to a massive deal. The move is expected to help the 49ers defensive line reach its full potential.

"Just one more piece of the puzzle, a very talented piece of the puzzle," Kocurek said. "Obviously, the last couple of years, I've followed Javon throughout his career, and he's always been a really, really, really good player. And I think the last couple of years in Philly, he's really separated himself from a lot of the other interior players in the game, especially from a pass-rush standpoint, from pressuring the quarterback to being able to win one-on-ones at a really, really high rate. There's only a couple of guys in the NFL that's won at a rate that he's won."

In recent years, the 49ers have made an effort to ensure the defensive line is stocked with talented depth. Dominating up front was a goal of head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch from the start of their tenure.

"Everybody knows our philosophy on D-lineman here at the Niners," Kocurek continued. "The more, the merrier, and especially the talented more is even better. So we saw the opportunity. We didn't know if we were going to be able to get him or not. And it came down to it, and this is a place that he saw himself wanting to play at, and style of play that he saw himself fitting in with what we do. Adding another really talented piece to the puzzle to help us reach those goals that we aspire to reach once it's all said and done."

Javon Kinlaw

Moving onto another Javon, Kocurek was asked about the 49ers' former first-round pick, Javon Kinlaw. Injuries over his three NFL seasons have plagued the defensive tackle. He has appeared in just 10 regular season games since 2021 and was the team's lowest-graded (31.9) player last season, per Pro Football Focus.

"This is the first offseason since we've had Javon that he's been able to start the offseason healthy and actually stack days on top of each other," Kocurek said. "And we've been going for a while now, and he's been continuously stacking days. If you just go back to his career, his rookie year was the Coronavirus year, where I didn't see him until the first day of camp. [He] shows up and he tries to, as a rookie, come in with really no offseason and go through a camp; brain was spinning, and just trying to line up in the defense and all that stuff.

"And then he got hurt late in his rookie year and kind of went into the next offseason where he's rehabbing. Then the next year, he had the surgery. So he was rehabbing all last offseason. So this is really the first offseason since we've had him that it's been a great, unbelievable start and no setbacks. And he's been doing awesome and able to stack one day on top of the next and really get himself, at this point in time in the offseason, more so ready to play than at any time in his career since he's been here. So it's all been really positive."
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