SANTA CLARA – Lawrence Okoye was interviewed by Bay Area reporters Sunday afternoon outside of the 49ers’ locker room. Here is a transcript.
Q: How did it feel to practice in pads yesterday?
OKOYE: It was a big deal in my progression, in my development as a player, to get back out in pads. OTAs are all well and good but, as a D-lineman, there are certain things that you’re going to get tested on, so it was great for me.
Q: Can you measure how far you’ve come in one year?
OKOYE: It’s a long way. I think that’s fair to say. It gives more appreciation for all of the effort the organization has put into me. Jimmy (Tomsula), he has put in the man hours to help get me where I’m at. Now, I’ve just got to keep going and keep progressing.
Q: It seemed like you were very eager for the first padded practice.
OKOYE: Yeah, it’s been a long journey for me. I haven’t been in pads since August 2013. It was a big occasion for me to get out there in pads again. There is nothing better than going against Joe Staley and Mike Iupati, probably the best left side in the whole league. I’m feeling great about everything. The whole D-line is doing really well. We’ve got a great group. I will just learn from everybody else.
Q: Jim Harbaugh said that your bull rush seems NFL ready but that you need some counter moves. Is that the next step for you?
OKOYE: Yeah, guys like Joe Staley, he’s so smart. He understands the edge rushers’ weaknesses and strengths. If he’s got a guy that’s a power rusher, he’s going to set for that. You’ve got to be able to react to that and read his set and play a bit quicker in that sense. But that’s just part of the whole learning progression. It was only Day 1 yesterday. I’m enjoying the whole process.
Q: Day 1 last year Jim Tomsula had you on the ground teaching you how to get low. How has that process evolved?
OKOYE: It’s just crazy, really. I can’t really watch last year’s tape. It’s just too hard to watch. I cringe too much. Now, I feel like a football player and it’s time to keep progressing. Like I said, I’ve got a really tough group I’m competing with. We spur each other on and everyone’s getting better off each other.
Q: How have you changed physically to become a football player?
OKOYE: The training is slightly different in regards to weight lifting. Throwing helped me massively for this but, obviously, there are certain things you have to do that are more specific – getting winded a bit more. How well can you perform when you’re tired? How well can you perform when you’re really fatigued? That sort of stuff. And just developing power and speed and long speed now that I’m doing special teams.
Q: What is it about football that you like?
OKOYE: I think I enjoy the collision aspect. When I played rugby, that was a big deal for me and I missed that when I left. I just felt like it was a sport where I could let loose a bit and exploit whatever god-given skills I have.
Q: Will you have an opportunity during preseason to run down on kicks?
OKOYE: Yeah, I think that has been made clear. I’ve taken part in all of the special teams. I’ve improved in that regard, too. But we’ve got the best team in the league. It’s going to be a tough experience trying to beat people or to get reps, so you’ve got to make sure you’re on the ball every day.
Q: Are you now a bad football player or have you moved past that?
OKOYE: I think I’m past that. I think that’s fair to say, but there is a lot more to go. If I’m satisfied with where I’m at now, then I’m selling myself short. Jimmy has made that very clear to me that if you hang your hat on what you’ve done so far, you’re not going to last. I’ve just got to keep improving. That’s the only way I can stay in this job.
Q: Who do you room with?
OKOYE: I was with Tank for most of the offseason. We developed a good relationship. And I have developed a good relationship with all of the rookie D-linemen. Kaleb (Ramsey) is a great talent, too. He’s going to be pretty special I feel like. He’s got everything in his body that he needs to be a good D-lineman. The rest of the guys that I came in with last year – Tank is showing himself and Q (Quinton Dial) is really showing himself, too. And then we’ve got (Demarcus) Dobbs and Tony (Jerod-Eddie), and then Justin (Smith) and Ray (McDonald). It’s pretty crazy the depth we have on this team.
Q: What can you learn from Tank Carradine?
OKOYE: He was an edge rusher in college. He’s got all those moves. He brings them inside and he goes against guards who don’t quite have the good feet or the long arms as tackles do. So he’s bringing that and guys don’t know how to block him. They set for power, he gives them hands. They set for speed, he gives them power. He’s got tremendous game and he’s somebody who can turn into a really, really, really good player.
Q: Is that something you guys do, go over moves and counter moves?
OKOYE: During the offseason we did more run fits than pass moves because you don’t want to blow each other up. But we have worked hard together. Q has come in and worked hard with us, too. Kaleb did some stuff with us when he first got here. I just feel like it’s a group of hungry players.