MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Javon Kinlaw finally is living without pain, which has bought joy back to playing football for the 49ers' defensive tackle.
Coach Kyle Shanahan has been careful with the third-year lineman, not wanting to increase Kinlaw’s workload too quickly.
After only appearing on the field for 14 snaps in the 49ers' first preseason game against the Green Bay Packers last weekend, Kinlaw’s rotation continued through much of the first half in San Francisco's 17-7 preseason win over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night at US Bank Stadium.
“He just seems more himself,” Shanahan said on Saturday. “When something is bothering you like it was, that’s hard for anybody but it’s really hard for athletes. This is what they do, it’s what they wait their whole life to do and when you’re going out there and the pressure is on you and you don’t feel like you can do what you’re capable of, it’s frustrating.”
After the game, Kinlaw couldn’t even pinpoint when his chronic knee pain began, only saying repeatedly that it has been a “long time.” Now the hulking defensive tackle is re-energized, able to play faster without needing to limit his motions or think about what might cause pain.
“Good to be out there with the guys,” Kinlaw said. “I love being out there. I missed it to be honest. I feel like I’m finally getting back to having fun and just really being a kid again now that I’m not in any pain.”
Kinlaw’s new outlook isn’t just mental. After not being able to work out normally as a rookie due to COVID-19 restrictions, his second offseason was spent rehabbing. The South Carolina product explained that his new svelte figure is just a result of him having a “normal offseason.”
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“I wasn’t able to train every day all crazy like I did this year,” Kinlaw said. “I feel like a totally different player. I’ve been laboring on that thing for a long, long time. It’s been a minute.”
Kinlaw finished the night with one tackle for a loss, one quarterback hit and a sack for a loss of 11 yards, but he impacted the game more than on just those plays. He constantly was double-teamed by Vikings offensive lineman and was still able to get pressure on the quarterback.
Kinlaw said that he has faced double-teams since he stepped on the football field in 10th grade and reveled in the challenge of it. Now healthy, he is refining his technique that will help him overcome those matchups. After playing extensively in Minnesota, Shanahan is doubtful Kinlaw will play much in the 49ers' third preseason game, which means he will have over three weeks to prepare for his 2022 regular-season debut.
While the 49ers can't wait, opposing offensive linemen should be wary.