SANTA CLARA The 49ers kick off a three-day rookie minicamp today, the first time the incoming class will practice in professional uniforms.
For one member, it will be the first practice in any sort of football uniform.
Lawrence Okoye, an Olympic discus thrower for Britain for the past three years, said he wore a helmet and shoulder pads for the first time when he visited the New Orleans Saints in the run-up to the draft. But the would-be defensive end, whom the 49ers signed as an undrafted free agent, was only trying on the gear. He's not donned shoulder pads in live drills, and he's certainly not gone helmet to helmet against an offensive lineman.
Before the draft, Okoye said he studied film and worked on getting himself in playing shape. But teams warned against trying to pick up the sport without the proper tutelage.
"Obviously, there's no advantage at all in not having played the game," Okoye said in a recent phone interview. "The best thing you can say is that I'm a blank sheet, and a team can do with me what they will. And I'll pick it up like a sponge."
The 6-foot-6, 308-pound Briton promises to get plenty to soak up over the next three days, courtesy of energetic defensive-line coach Jim Tomsula, who has a background coaching European players. Tomsula coached for nine seasons in NFL Europe, and he spends his summers teaching American football in Italy.
The group of players at the three-day minicamp is divided into four groups:
The 11 selections the 49ers made in last month's draft.
Twelve rookie free agents, such as Okoye, that the team signed after the draft.
Unsigned tryout players.
Six veterans who were on the roster last year but did not earn any pension credits in the NFL.
The last group includes safety Michael Thomas, who played for coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio at Stanford, and offensive tackle Kenny Wiggins from Elk Grove.
Among the players trying out is quarterback Nate Montana, son of former 49ers great Joe Montana. The younger Montana took part in a predraft workout session with the 49ers but went undrafted.
Three rookies will be on hand for the weekend session but will not practice.
Second-round draft pick Cornelius "Tank" Carradine, a defensive lineman, suffered a torn ACL in November and still is recovering from the injury. Running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a more severe knee injury, and Harbaugh hinted last month that Lattimore may sit out the 2013 season to ensure a full recovery.
Offensive tackle Luke Marquardt, whom the 49ers signed as an undrafted free agent, is recovering from a broken foot. Like Carradine, he is expected to be healthy by the start of the season.