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49ers’ Javon Kinlaw is finally healthy and playing with confidence

Aug 7, 2023 at 7:00 PM--

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San Francisco 49ers' defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw came into training camp with a purpose and a renewed sense of urgency, which has caught the attention of coaches and teammates.

New defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has been encouraged by what he has seen from the former South Carolina standout.

"I think he's fresh." said Wilks. " You're seeing a lot of explosion off the line, violent hands and really playing with a lot of confidence right now."

Kinlaw was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers as the 14th overall pick in the 2020 draft. The 49ers invested a lot of draft capital in Kinlaw, with high expectations that he could be an immediate replacement for DeForest Buckner.

However, he has failed to live up to those unrealistic expectations and finds himself in a position where he will need to battle to make the final 53-man roster.

Over the past three seasons, Kinlaw has been plagued with injuries, and has been limited to 24 regular season games.

Year Games Played Games Started Total Snaps
2020 14 12 546
2021 4 4 149
2022 6 6 161
Total 24 22 856

When Kinlaw has been on the field, his production has been underwhelming, to say the least. Kinlaw has logged 45 tackles and just 1.5 sacks in 856 total snaps, with a dismal overall rating average of 45.8 per Pro Football Focus.

So, it was no real surprise when the 49ers declined to pick up Kinlaw's fifth-year option, forcing him into a "make or break" type of season.

However, it appears that Kinlaw understands what is at stake and is up for the challenge.

49ers' defensive line coach Kris Kocurek has noticed the level of effort that Kinlaw has put in this offseason.

"Since I've been here, (it's) one of the more gratifying things just because of the work I know he's put into this thing." Kocurek said in a recent interview. "And now that we've started camp, he's been out there every single day, taking his full allotment of reps, and now you're starting to really see the player he can become."

Since the pads have gone on, Kinlaw has found success in 1-on-1 matchups, displaying his raw power and explosiveness by beating players such as Jake Brendel, Leroy Watson, and Spencer Burford. He has also been able to put pressure on the quarterbacks during team periods, which is exactly what the 49ers want to see.

But, what's been most impressive is that Kinlaw is not relying solely on his size and power to win 1-on-1 battles, but he is using speed and agility to beat blockers in various ways.

"JK has been balling." said Arik Armstead, also a former 1st rounder who knows how injuries can stall the progression of a young player, told reporters: "It's been great to see his progress and his process. I dealt with injuries early in my career and really couldn't find my footing. Once I was able to string along some good health, I was able to play some good football. And he's been looking amazing. He's healthy, and he's been dominating."

Staying healthy and being able to stack multiple days of quality practice in training camp is crucial for Kinlaw, as he begins the difficult task of competing for a roster spot on a team that is loaded at the defensive line position.

Head Coach Kyle Shanahan offered encouraging words as well.

"This year it's been so encouraging because it's the first year that he's gone from February all the way up to now with no setbacks." Kyle Shanahan said. "You know how much it means to him; you know how much he's put into it.

It will be interesting to see if Kinlaw can continue his dominance in training camp and through upcoming preseason games to prove that he deserves a role on this defense. If Kinlaw can stay healthy and play up to his potential, he will be a tremendous asset to the 49ers' strong defensive line.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

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