SANTA CLARA -- The most intriguing physical talent on the 49ers just needs to get into a position where he allows his athleticism to take over.
When the 49ers play the Denver Broncos on Thursday in the exhibition opener, rookie defensive lineman Lawrence Okoye will not only be suiting up for the first time in an NFL setting.
He'll suit up for the first football game of his life.
Okoye is attempting to make an incredible journey from throwing the discuss for Britain in the 2012 Summer Olympics to an NFL roster just one year later.
"The guy has never played football in his life," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "And he has been making strides out here. He's been getting better since Day 1 to whatever day this is, 10 or 11. He has gotten better. But it's all relative. We're going to try to get him into the game this Thursday. How much? I don't know yet."
Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has been entrusted with molding Okoye into a football player. At 6 foot 6, 304 pounds, Okoye's biggest physical adjustment is remaining low and playing with leverage while honing his technique.
But he also must learn the game of football and his responsibilities while lining up mostly at right defensive end in the 49ers' 3-4 defense. As Fangio sees it, the mental and physical sides are related.
"They interplay with each other," Fangio said. "The more he's thinking effects his technique and how intense he can play, how confident he is. Things can change. Sometimes motion changes his responsibility. Sometimes it doesn't. His process isn't as fast as somebody else who has experience."
When asked if Okoye will be able to "function" in an exhibition game against players who were accomplished enough in college to earn training camp spots, Fangio answered, "I don't know. We'll see."