Lawrence Okoye may end up being a phenom, but right now all he is is the start witness of a potential assault charge. He is going to need playing time to learn the how to play Defensive Tackle/End. No matter how good you are, you can't walk in off the street and just be great (at least, I tell my kids that all the time). How much time will he need? A retired 49er DT said recently that he will only need a year, so it's not an eternity, but it's still a year. At the end of the season, Lawrence will have had 5-6 months in pads, so he may be ready to give us a few snaps in December.
This makes Lawrence a prime candidate for the practice squad, but he has to clear waivers. The team will want Lawrence to get playing time in the preseason, but if he shows any skills then there is a good chance he gets scooped up by another team. If he looks horrible, then Lawrence might be a multi-year project. So, it's great we get to put him on our practice squad, but the chances of him contributing in 2013 or even 2014 drop considerably. They could keep Lawrence out of the preseason games altogether, so that other teams don't get any tape on him, but that will impede his development also.
I'm rooting for Okoye. I want to see an Adonus tearing up the field next year, but we have to set realistic expectations. There is one area where Okoye may actually contribute on day 1, Special Teams. I know little about Rugby, but I know you are on your feet a lot and tackling people is space. If Lawrence can do this, then he becomes a prime candidate for our Kick-Off and Punt teams. His size and speed in the open field will be simply awesome. He may also do well blocking kicks, where he knows what he has to do before the play is even started.
Every team targets 1 or 2 players that are primarily special teams players only. It really all depends on how the roster comes together. By looking at the 46 man and 53 man rosters, we can see where we might have space for a 6-6 300+ lb special teamer.
|Position||Starters||Backups||In-game Injury Coverage Rationale||Roster Spots|
|QB||Colin Kaepernick||Colt McCoy||It's rare to lose two QBs in a game. A 3rd QB may be part of the active roster, but comes from another position. I'm not sure who has QB experience from a previous life that could cover for this.||2|
|Kendall and LaMichael both back up Frank. If Bruce goes out the team can go with non-FB formations. If Will Tukuafu makes the team he could backup at FB.||4|
|WR X||Kyle Williams||AJ Jenkins||I am assuming AJ beats out Lockette. Receivers learn all positions, so backups could cover either X or Z.||2|
|WR Z||Anquan Boldin||Quinton Patton||Again, lots of assumptions here. Boldin will probably move to the slot for 3 receiver sets, allowing either AJ or Patton to be the 3rd receiver.||2|
|TE||Vernon Davis||Vance McDonald
|For the amount of 2 TE sets we run, we will need a 3rd TE active||3|
|OL||Staley Iupati Goodwin Boone Davis||Adam Snyder
Winner of Kilgore/Looney
|Adam will probably be first in at all 5 positions. If we lose both Tackles in a game then Boone would shift over. If we actually lost 3 linemen in a game...I don't want to think about it (we have 3 TEs).||7|
|D-Line||McDonald Dorsey Cowboy||Ian Williams
|Either Ian or Dorsey can cover for the DEs. It works even if Ian only plays DT because of Dorsey's versatility. Player TBD has to be a DE for coverage.||5|
|ILB||Willis Bowman||Dan Skuta
|Skuta will probably be first in at either spot.||4|
|OLB||Smith Brooks||Parys Haralson||Since Skuta is practicing at ILB and OLB, the active roster can get away with only 3 here, which we did for much of last season.||3|
|Craig Dahl||Reid and Dahl are learning both safety positions, and Fangio has said they are somewhat interchangeable. If we lost both safeties in a game (very rare), we have CBs with safety experience.||3|
|We've got athletic ILBs, and smart Safeties, so we can leverage that for additional in-game depth.||4|
|Specials||Dawson Lee Jennings||Not allowed to get injured.||3|
So, for any single game, we can cover our offense and defense with 42 players. This is the bare minimum, but it leaves 4 spots dedicated to special teams. We've already got our returners on the roster. We will target two gunners that play outside on our kick-off and punt teams. Spillman has done this for us and Moore did this for Miami. If we go that route then we get potential extra back-up coverage at Safety and Wide Receiver. This leaves 2 spots. We are a little light at backup FB and 3rd QB, but we might take the risk and not fill one or both. This leaves 0-2 positions open for special teams competition.
This off-season we signed Osgood and Ventrone as veteran special teamers, and McBath, Dixon, and Brock apparently did a good job last year. These will be the guys that Okoye is competing with for the last spot(s) on the active roster. It's possible he wins out.
We still have 7 spots left to fill out our 53 man roster. The backups listed above are really for in-game injuries only. If we lost a player for more than a game, we ideally have someone on the 53 man roster to fill in. Spots where we are still light:
3rd QB: if not on the active roster
FB: We need a viable candidate if Miller is out for an extended period, but this is a position where we might be able to bring a veteran in off the street. I'm not sure what the team is thinking here.
OL: loser of Kilgore/Looney
D-line: for depth (Carradine if not part of the 46 man)
OLB: Skuta is an in-game option only (Lemionier)
WR/Safety/CB: Whatever position doesn't get filled by a special teamer
It's hard to predict the exact direction our 53 man will go, because it depends on where our special teamers play and if they are truly viable backups at their position. We will need some combination of the above, and this covers 6 of the open 7 spots. This leaves 1 spot open that could be used to protect a long term project.
Before you start tearing me up, I know this analysis has holes in it. There are so many roster combinations that it really is impossible to see how everything plays out. What I wanted to see is if it's possible to actually stash a player away for a year as many bloggers have suggested. The answer appears to be yes, but probably only 1 without taking undo risk. In addition, there could be 1-2 special team specialists that make the team. Okoye's rugby experience and speed make that an option also.
Good luck Lawrence. I will be rooting for you. OK nation, thoughts?