Givens playing, producing like ‘alpha' along 49ers' D-line


SANTA CLARA — The 49ers’ defensive line is divided among alphas and bravos for identification purposes only.

However, the line separating starters and backups has become blurred — if not completely obliterated.

“At this point, I feel like we’re all alphas because at any given time, we all can be in there,” 49ers defensive tackle Kevin Givens told NBC Sports Bay Area. “We’re not ones or twos. I consider everybody an alpha.”

The 49ers have played most of the season without Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw, the starting defensive tackles at the beginning of the year.

Armstead returned to limited practice on Friday and is expected to soon be back in the lineup. Kinlaw’s availability at any point for the remainder of the season is uncertain due to a bothersome knee condition.

Givens and Hassan Ridgeway have stepped in and stepped up in the 49ers’ starting lineup. Given has started eight games this season, and has been lined up next to Ridgeway for the first snap of the past six games.

“Hassan and I took it upon ourselves to make sure there’s no drop-off between the ones and the twos,” Givens said. “We have a lot of expectations for ourselves on the defense.

“We feel like how D-line goes is how the defense plays. So we want to be the life of the party.”

Givens originally signed with the 49ers in 2019 as an undrafted rookie from Penn State. He spent most of his first season on the practice squad before a final week call-up to the active roster.

“Being undrafted made we want to not be on practice squad ever again,” Givens said. “It definitely drives me to work to never be back where I started in the league.

“I guess that’s why I practice the way I do and play the way I do, just because I’ve been there before and I never want to be there ever again.”

Givens, 25, has a two sacks on the season and 10 run stops as part of a 49ers defense that allows an NFL-low 3.4 yards per rushing attempt.

“I want to help get that run stopped first, then I worry about the pass rush after that,” Givens said.

Givens and all the 49ers’ defensive linemen benefit from a system in which there is a constant rotation of fresh players. It is common for the team to play eight linemen in a game with each getting on the field for at least 25 percent of the action.

Typically, Givens will play five or six snaps before he voluntarily heads off the field for a breather.

With their constant rotation of fresh players, the 49ers ensure none of their players should ever give less than maximum effort on any play.

Givens believes every player on the D-line is coming together at the right time to play top-notch football against the run and the pass as the 49ers head into the second half of the season firmly in the NFC playoff picture.

Givens is coming off one of his best games of the season in the 49ers’ 38-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City, as he had one sack and two tackles for losses.

He expects to build on that momentum Sunday against the New Orleans Saints at Levi’s Stadium.

“I had a couple plays I’d like to get back, but that was definitely a step in the right direction,” Givens said. “I was thinking clearer and playing fast, and I got results.”

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Even with as well as he is playing, Givens said he is not satisfied.

“I want to be the most dominant player I can be,” he said. “I know I have a lot of games when I’m dominant some quarters, some drives.

“Honestly, I just want to have a dominant game, where I’m not making mistakes throughout the game.”

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