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49ers Notebook: Javon Hargrave’s first 49ers thoughts; Trent Williams’ weird late-night workout schedule; Wilks on DBs; Deommodore Lenoir wants to be elite

Jun 7, 2023 at 4:57 PM--

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The 49ers ended their offseason workout program on Wednesday with their final session of mandatory minicamp. But before they made their way out the door for the summer, the team gave fans and reporters one last dose of info in the form of the final media sessions of the spring.

Among those speaking to reporters on Wednesday were defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, left tackle Trent Williams and cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, as well as defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. Each session produced some interesting tidbits, which we'll review in this version of 49ers notebook.

Hargrave speaks

Despite being the splash free agent addition of the offseason for the 49ers, Javon Hargrave had not met with the team's beat reporters in person before Wednesday. Hargrave didn't participate in voluntary team workouts before minicamp, so this week marked his in-person debut with reporters as well as on the practice field.

Hargrave was an opponent of the 49ers when they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game in January, but he made the decision to jump to the other side when the 49ers offered him an $84 million contract in March. He's seen some similarities between the two teams since then but still has some adjustments to make when it comes to learning his new defense.

"I think we kind of played this way a couple of years ago in Philly," Hargrave said. "It's similar, but it's different. It's different in its own ways. It's a lot of different terminology and stuff that I got to get down, some technique things that I got to work on."

Hargrave will join with players such as Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Drake Jackson, Javon Kinlaw, Kerry Hyder, Clelin Ferrell, and Kevin Givens to form what should wind up being one of the best defensive line units in the NFL. He's found his new teammates to be accommodating since meeting them for the first time.

"They just welcomed me in and (were) just telling me things I need to know about the defense," Hargrave said. "So just helping me out on anything that I asked for."

Bosa spoke to reporters on Tuesday about Hargrave, saying he's underrated and belongs in a similar category to elite linemen such as Aaron Donald of the Rams and Chris Jones of the Chiefs. Hargrave seemed humbled and appreciative of Bosa's praise.

"That's big," Hargrave said. "Just who he is, him to think like that. That's what we strive for in this league is to just put that work in and try to be the best we can."

Also among those happy to see Hargrave this week was Wilks, who got to see his defensive line together for the first time. Hargrave was part of an offseason effort made by the 49ers to get their defensive line back to the dominant level it was at during the team's Super Bowl run in 2019.

"I love our guys up front. You're going to hear me say this time and time again, everything we do starts up front," Wilks said. "And we made that commitment with Jed [team CEO Jed York] all the way down with John [general manager John Lynch] and Kyle [head coach Kyle Shanahan] to try to assemble the best defensive line in the league. So with him being here, Bosa being here, you talk about Kinlaw, you talk about Arik, Drake. I'm excited about what we can do up front this year."

But while Hargrave seems satisfied with his new surroundings, he's not yet ready to talk much about what went down during the 2022 NFC Championship game. When the subject of what might have happened had 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy not been injured in the game, Hargrave laughed and decided to dodge the question.

"I'm on this side now, so I really don't need to speak on that anymore," Hargrave said.

Trent Williams the night owl

Trent Williams was clearly dejected after the conclusion of the 2022 49ers season, at one point even leaving the possibility open that he might explore life after football. But it didn't take him long to get excited about the game once again and get back into his workout schedule, which he revealed to be a little unusual.

"After a tough loss like we suffered, it may take maybe a week or two longer, but usually after about two to three weeks, when all the bumps and bruises kind of subside and you're looking at basketball on TV, you're watching people compete, and then you start to miss that competition and start to get that edge again, and next thing you know, you're in the gym at two o'clock in the morning."

Two in the morning? That's an actual workout schedule for the 34-year-old Williams, who likes the idea of getting his work in while nobody's watching.

"It's pretty much the schedule but it's more so therapy. You get to get in there and you don't feel like you're in a fishbowl where everybody's watching you, how much you lift and when you get tired and kind of measuring themselves. Me, I just like to go in there, it's open space, it's night outside. It's kind of like I know everybody's sleeping. I feel like I'm working. Maybe I'm getting a leg up. They probably work while I'm sleeping. But to me it's kind of a mental thing."

What's Williams been working on at that hour? One thing has been maintaining the level of explosiveness he wants to have when the season begins.

"Explosiveness is something that you kind of build on over time," Williams said. "And I think for me that's one of the most important things going into any offseason training program is to make sure my exercises continue to scope where I want my explosion to be when I come back. So explosion in my game is a huge. huge part of what I do. So it's a big focus in the offseason."

Williams on Colton McKivitz, Trey Lance, and Deebo

Williams will have a new starter at right tackle this season in Colton McKivitz, who will be taking over the spot after the departure of longtime starter Mike McGlinchey in free agency. Williams has known McKivitz since the 49ers added him as a fifth-round pick in 2020, and he feels McKivitz is ready to shine as a starter after going through some ups and downs early in his career.

"I think it's well deserved. It's been a long time coming," Williams said. "I remember having conversations with him when he didn't make the roster, and he had to go to the practice squad for a couple of weeks and how bummed out he was. He was playing great, but you know, it's a numbers game more than anything. And just to see him continue to grind, not to be discouraged, continue to let his talent show, play with confidence, he earned it. He's here for a reason, and he got that spot for a reason.

"He earned it. I'm proud of him."

Williams also had some positive words about Trey Lance after what he saw from the young quarterback in 2022. A season-ending injury kept Lance from seeing the field for much of the 2022 season, but what he did while backup Brock Purdy took over as a starter and led the 49ers to the NFC Championship left an impression on Williams.

"Just by being a great teammate," Williams said. "We all know he was hit with an unfortunate situation, and football, it's the way the game is -- one opportunity closes for somebody else, it opens up for somebody else. So obviously, Brock was exactly what we needed him to be when we needed him to be that. As opposed to sitting there and being down, which everybody could respect and everybody could say, 'I get that. I understand,' he didn't.

"He was in Brock's hip pocket, very attentive in meetings. Every meeting, every walkthrough that he could attend, he was there, and he just always had a smile on his face, always uplifting teammates. For him to be that young and be that mature and handle things that well, I was impressed."

And not surprisingly, Williams was asked about what he thought of his friend Deebo Samuel saying on Tuesday that he felt his 2022 season was "awful." Williams didn't agree with that assessment, saying Samuel was the same player he's been in the past for the 49ers.

"I thought he was Deebo," Williams said. "Everybody's their own worst critic. I know he's hard on himself, but I thought he was a playmaker for us."

By his own admission, Samuel was not as prepared for the 2022 season as he could have been after going through an offseason contract dispute. Things look different this year for Samuel, who seems determined to make his 2023 season one to remember.

"He's been grinding," Williams said. "He's definitely been grinding, which I think with all great players, I think every offseason, even if it's one percent you figure out how to do things a little bit better, whether it's starting faster, starting later, figuring out ways to get your body healthy as opposed to just lifting weights. Everybody has their own recipe. So I just looked at it as another part of his maturation."

Deommodore Lenoir looking to take the next step

At this point in 2022, there was some uncertainty coming from fans and reporters about the future of cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, who was coming off an up-and-down rookie season after being selected in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Lenoir played a big role early in his rookie season but saw his playing time diminish down the stretch, leaving some to wonder if he might wind up being an odd man out when roster decisions came around in 2022.

Lenoir proved those concerns to be misguided after emerging as a key piece to the puzzle at the cornerback position last year. He finished with 70 tackles, five passes defensed and one interception in 17 games and made some of his biggest plays during the postseason.

Now he hopes to continue to improve and eventually take a place among the NFL's top cornerbacks.

"The game slowed down a lot for me just with getting the reps all last year," Lenoir said. "So this year I think it's just time to take that next step and just be one of the best corners in the league. I mean, that's my goal."

Wilks will play a significant part in Lenoir reaching that goal. Defensive backs are a specialty for Wilks, and he's already made an impression on Lenoir since being named as the 49ers defensive coordinator in February.

"I'm very impressed. He's like the Godfather of the DBs," Lenoir said of Wilks. "He's got every answer, and he always a positive person. There was plays that I gave up in OTAs, and then it was never like a real breaking me down. It was always bringing me up and just telling me how I could be better."

Wilks has liked what he's seen so far from Lenoir, saying the third-year cornerback has already made noticeable improvements over the past few months.

"You look at Demo, I thought he took strides this offseason and really getting better. You can see his confidence, and I think his confidence is coming from his preparation. As you watch him each and every day as I have, you see him taking steps and really focusing on the details in the classroom and it's transferring to the field."

Lenoir said Wednesday he's dropped a few pounds from last season and is moving better as a result. One area he'll focus on in the weeks ahead is working to prevent big plays downfield, which is an area he had some issues with in 2022.

"Last year, I was trying to locate the receiver instead of feeling the receiver and then tracking the ball," Lenoir said. "So I think that was my biggest thing of why I gave up a lot of plays down the field."

Wilks assesses his other DBs

Wilks weighed in on a number of defensive backs besides Lenoir on Wednesday. Here's a rundown:

-On cornerback Charvarius Ward: "I think he has, just as a person, tremendous character. I just like how he takes care of his business on and off the field. I watched a lot of tape on him before I got here and then since I've been here, so he has the skill set to be one of the top of the league, and he and I talked about that. So it's all about him just being locked in and focused this year and having consistency."

-On cornerback Ambry Thomas and if he has the ability to engage in the physical type of press play seen from Ward: "I think he does. Only time will tell. I think right now I'm very impressed with being in gym shorts right now. But I think once we get the pads on in training camp, we have an opportunity to go and practice against the Raiders before we play them, and we'll see exactly once we get the preseason. But I'm very confident that he can get it done."

-On rookie safety Ji'Ayir Brown: "I think he's done well. He's had an opportunity with Gipson [safety Tashaun Gipson] being here to be able to learn from a veteran guy. And they do a great job communicating and talking. Gip is one of the older guys in the room, and I think he does a good job trying to relate things from a coach's perspective.

"So he's helped Ji'Ayir out tremendously. His skill set, I told you day one, I was excited about that. And I've seen him make strides. And his ability to make plays on the ball from the post is tremendous. He covers a lot of ground."

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