SANTA CLARA -- Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is working with a blank canvas on the 49ers practice pitch.
And what a canvas British discus record-holder Lawrence Okoye presents the 49ers. At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, Okoye did not necessarily set out to become an NFL defensive end.
The position, more or less, chose him.
"I think I'm a good mold for a defensive end, size, weight, speed, etc.," Okoye said Friday after his first football practice. "And I think it's, not the easiest, but one of the easiest positions to learn on the pitch, on the field. And hopefully I can have an impact."
The 49ers signed Okoye to a contract as an undrafted free agent after the Olympic finalist attracted the 49ers' attention with two appearances at NFL regional combines.
Before arriving at the 49ers rookie camp, he limited his preparations to just physical conditioning. Now, the mental part of his job begins.
"We have an expert in that regard," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Tomsula coached in NFL Europe prior to Mike Nolan hiring him to the 49ers' staff in 2007. Tomsula has a history of coaching players with no previous football experience.
"He has done this a number of times," Harbaugh said. "I can't think of another coach who is better suited to take on that challenge."
As foreign as American football might seem to Okoye at this point, Harbaugh points out that he is in the same position as all the other players who came to the rookie camp with no NFL experience.
"College football to pro football is a different game," Harbaugh said. "There are different rules, there are different factors. So this is new for all the players."
One adjustment for Okoye -- in addition to learning proper technique -- is just getting the terminology correct for the playing surface.
"It's very technical, obviously," Okoye said. "There's a lot prep you have to do in the class before you get out on the pitch . . . or the field.
"I'm just trying to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. They're doing great with me. They're not trying to force-feed me. They're giving me the little snippets I need for today. Tomorrow, I'll get more snippets I need for tomorrow. So I'm going to take each day as it comes."