Why 49ers' Ryans pegs Kinlaw as breakout player in 2021


Javon Kinlaw is taking advantage of his first experience at 49ers organized team activities. 

After COVID-19 protocols eliminated in-person attendance at OTAs in 2020, the second-year defensive lineman is soaking up everything he can. DeMeco Ryans already has Kinlaw on his list of players who he envisions having a breakout season. 

With the added benefit of time on the field with coaches and without the pressure of getting ready for games, the defensive coordinator sees a huge improvement in Kinlaw after only two weeks of offseason work. 

“Kinlaw is looking awesome,” Ryans said on Wednesday. “Kinlaw has been able to really hone in and focus on his techniques which he missed coming in as a rookie. He is going to take a huge jump this year. 

“We were able to slow things down and really emphasize footwork, hand placement, technique and eyes. He’s been doing an awesome job and I can already see how much better he has gotten in the couple weeks that we’ve been together.” 

In his rookie season, Kinlaw appeared in 14 games, 12 of which he started. He recorded 1.5 sacks, 33 total tackles -- 15 solo, three for a loss -- along with four quarterback hits. His biggest play of the season, however, was the interception he returned for a touchdown in Week 12 in the team's win over the Los Angeles Rams.  

Kinlaw had a minor “clean up” procedure on his knee but reports he has been 100-percent for some time. He has been in Santa Clara rehabbing since February and sees that as a huge benefit as a player. 

“It’s been very valuable in the aspect of just being around the guys,” Kinlaw said. Just getting a better feel for everybody. That’s been great. These OTAs have been very key for me.”

Ryans has already started putting his own wrinkles in the defensive scheme, wanting the play on the field to be faster and even more simplified than when under Robert Saleh. Sharpening Kinlaw’s focus is part of the plan that has already been put into action. 

“[I’ve been] focusing on my keys, not having my eyes all over the field,” Kinlaw said. “Just worrying about the man in front of me, that’s it.”

RELATED: 49ers D-coordinator Ryans promises aggressive play this year

As far as being on Ryan’s short list, the defensive lineman is flattered but is staying focused on the task at hand — continuing to improve. As part of the process Kinlaw has adjusted how he looks at each day of practice. 

“I appreciate him saying that,” Kinlaw said. “Just my mentality, what I’m taking towards the game every day. How I want to approach and practice every day, what I want to work on.” 

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