Ahead of their matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers are facing some injury issues, as defensive tackle Arik Armstead has missed the entire week of practice with a foot injury.
As a result, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is primed to make his second start of the season, coming off a week where he recorded the first sack of the season.
Kinlaw had a strong performance against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13, earning two sacks and five pressures.
But, the improvement in play has slowly flashed over the past four weeks, and the coaching staff has taken notice.
“It really started about, I want to say almost right when we got back from our bye week,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said about Kinlaw’s improvement. “Since then, Kinlaw’s game has gone up each week. I think it gets better and better each week.”
However, Kinlaw has shown flashes throughout the season, and is finally healthy for the first time since his rookie season, where the defensive tackle played 14 games.
Back in September, after a strong start to the year, Kinlaw attributed the quality of his play to just being healthy, which fellow defensive lineman Nick Bosa concurred with.
“I’m healthy, that plays a big part in it,” Kinlaw said in September, via NBCSportsBayArea.com. “It’s awesome just being out there as a whole situation.”
“He’s just been healthy,” Bosa said about Kinlaw. “And really good offseason of training so he’s able to use the tools that he has. I think he’s going to keep ascending.”
Now 13 weeks into the season, Kinlaw is fully in football shape, which has allowed him to improve on a weekly basis.
“He’s finally strung enough practice together and being healthy this season that I think he’s really starting to get into true, he is in football shape but he is starting to play enough to where he improves every time he plays now. Same with the practice field. I think he’s really helped us out and he’s taken some big steps going forward,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said following the Eagles game.
Kinlaw’s recent success isn’t a surprise to defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who has spoken highly of the defensive tackle since the offseason.
But, Wilks has specifically seen an increase in consistency with Kinlaw’s pad level, which has a ripple effect on the rest of the defense when he’s on the field.
“Well, I can really go back even beyond that and I know you guys heard me talk about Kinlaw back in the spring when we were talking about guys who I think are going to have a great year,” Wilks said. “I think the number one thing with him is he’s healthy, unlike he’s been in the past.”
“And then there’s one word that you’re alluding to, which is he’s playing consistent. He’s really been consistent these last couple of weeks. I love the way he’s playing with lower pad level. Really as we talk about all the time, trying to create a new line of scrimmage, playing on their side of the ball. Everything we do is about penetration and you can see that with him.”
Now, Kinlaw will have an opportunity to put that consistent play to use on a bigger platform, as the injury to Arik Armstead likely keeps him on the sidelines for this weekend against the Seahawks.
The 49ers last played their division rivals in Week 12, where San Francisco’s defensive tackles had a monster game, as Armstead and Javon Hargrave had two sacks a piece, while Kinlaw had two pressures and Kevin Givens had another sack.
In another favorable matchup on Sunday, can Kinlaw put this season’s improvements to use in Armstead’s place?