Vic Fangio: Playing smaller will be key for Lawrence Okoye

AP

49ers defensive lineman Lawrence Okoye essentially got a redshirt year in 2013, spending his first NFL season on injured reserve with a knee injury as he transitioned from discus thrower to football player.

The good news? Okoye has made some strides, Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio told reporters Wednesday. But now comes the challenge of the 2012 Olympian from England showing what he’s learned in games and practices — and earning the right to do so.

“He looks a lot better than he did last year at this time. But, we’ll see. We’ll see. He’ll get more action this year hopefully,” Fangio said, according to a transcript from the club. “Hopefully it’s easier for us to put him into some preseason games, give him some more practice reps and actually see where he’s at.”

Fangio believes the 22-year-old Okoye is a more knowledgeable player than a season ago. Also, Okoye — who stands 6-foot-6 — is playing with better leverage, Fangio said.

“There aren’t many guys, if you guys did any research, there aren’t many 6-5 or taller guys that are good defensive players. There’s some. But, there’s not a lot,” Fangio said. “They’ve got to be able to bend their knees and play low, and use their height to their advantage when they can. But, they’ve got to bend their knees and get them down to 6-2 when they need to. So, he’s going to have to play the game lower and use his natural ability that he does have.

“He’s an extremely strong guy. He can run. But we’ll see how he pans out.”

While this is just Okoye’s second season playing football, the Niners probably need to see some material improvement from him to keep him around for 2014. How he solves his leverage problem could determine his NFL future.