The most impressive thing Lawrence Okoye did this spring: He kept showing up.
Okoye, as we all know by now, never had played a snap of American football prior to his first practice in May. Furthermore, injuries to defensive end Justin Smith, Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial, (and a minor one to Ray McDonald) meant that Okoye was not allowed to dip his toe into the sport. He plunged right in. No 49ers defensive linemen played more snaps this spring than Okoye.
"It's the hardest thing I've ever done, I'm under no illusions," the former British discus thrower and rugby player told England's Short List magazine.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio also offered no illusions about how difficult Okoye's transition will be. Next month promises to be even tougher because it will be the first time Okoye, 21, will participate in a full-contact practice.
"He hasn't had anybody hit him yet," Fangio said. "He hasn't had a double-team yet. He hasn't figured out if it's a run or pass, whether he should rush or play the run. So it'll probably be a very slow process with him much more than a normal rookie."
One of Okoye's biggest challenges will be maintaining leverage against the Mike Iupatis and Joe Staleys of the league. Okoye is 6-6, 304 pounds and has very long legs. The 49ers concluded that Okoye would learn the game faster on defense, but Jim Harbaugh acknowledged that Okoye looks more like an offensive tackle.
"We pretty quickly moved him to defensive lineman and let him start learning the game there," Harbaugh said. "But he does have an offensive lineman body."
Still, Okoye's awesome blend of size and speed are what drew the 49ers to him in the first place. And Okoye said he's working on refining those elements. "I'm far more explosive now, so I'm covering short distances very quickly," he told Short List. "For example, I have run a 1.64-second 10-yard dash, which is much more important both for discus and NFL."
-- Matt Barrows